Please reach out to California and a Mondavi retrospective at To Kalon

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Update: As much as 900,000 further acres have been lost to fire since September 14th and because of the recent Glass Fire there have been many evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. As of today nearly 66,000 acres have burned. Three fires had merged, resulting in one big fire initially threatening Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. Thank goodness the containment has now reached 30 per cent but there is still a long way to go. The road to recovery will be even longer so please consider donating to help all the families, businesses and first responders.

Related – California Update: Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Provides gift cards to evacuees and emergency relief services to those affected by the fire, including temporary shelter, meals, counselling and assistance in navigating insurance claims.

Wine Country Fire Relief Fundraiser

A gofundme campaign, launched by five wine industry marketing professionals, focuses on direct relief for farmworkers (a vital part of the wine industry’s fabric) affected by the Glass Fire Incident in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

California Wildfire Relief

Supports firefighters, low income families and animals that are suffering due to wildfires. It helps provide emergency supplies including food, water and medicine.

Latino Community Foundation

Distributes contributions to Latino-led organizations that are helping families displaced by wildfires across the state.

Women’s Foundation California Relief and Resilience Fund

Funding goes to every domestic violence shelter in the state to help care for survivors who are unhoused or feel unsafe.

Thank you to Karen MacNeil for her update and for sharing these words from Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners:

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous care from around the world, and for the hard work and dedication of fire fighters, first responders and volunteers who are here from near and far to help us.  At our core, we are a strong, agricultural community where grapes have been grown and wines made for more than 150 years. The Napa Valley is still here, our community spirit is fierce, we will get through and beyond this.”

We’re worried about all of you in northern California. Please stay safe.

Recalling simpler times

My last visit to To Kalon Vineyard was three and a half years ago, Oakville site of that consequential plottage, koan of sorts, most excellent agglomerate of soil, vine and canopy. To Kalon functions as an enigmatic invitation to rethink the meaning of wine, so speaking of The Robert Mondavi Winery and Arterra Wines Canada, enlightened educator Mark de Vere MW will soon be moderating a virtual tasting with Constellation Brands winemakers Thomas Rivers Brown and Carol Shrader. In a couple of weeks time, on Friday, October 9 at 1:00 pm (EST). I will be participating and tasting 2017 and 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan will be to explore the vast diversity and fine quality of the Oakville terroir and To Kalon Vineyard. Which brings me back to May of 2017 and a week spent in Napa Valley completing the Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Vineyard certification program.

There were cellar tastings, Chef Jeff Mosher prepared dinners, hot air balloon flights, vineyard cycling tours, UC Davis research investigations and most enriching seminars led by Director of Wine Education De Vere and winemaker Geneviève Janssens. Inside The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, Napa classrooms the sessions taught included west coast, global and To Kalon examples of cabernet sauvignon. The Napa Valley panelist apprised cabernet sauvignon flights were filled with archetypes, icons and Mondavi retrospectives. Rarely does one get to go at so many learning tools and experiential gifts of history through such an array of high quality varietal wines. De Vere made a request by asking everyone to dig deep, do some soul searching and get to the bottom of the new versus old world paradigm. “Let’s get an unbiased impression of what the differences are and what might make them different. California has reliably dry summers but much more day/night diurnal temperature fluctuations. Bordeaux stays warm at night and thus differing ripening patters. Napa significantly more sunshine hours but not necessarily more total heat.”

Related – En route to Mondavi

#tokalon

Then the vineyard’s prodigy spoke. Graeme MacDonald’s experience and published work have by now made him THE historian of Napa Valley’s famed To Kalon Vineyard area near Oakville. MacDonald is a To Kalon farmer who has written a history of the famed grape growing area for the Historic American Landscapes Survey. His work is part of the Library of Congress. The vineyard was started in 1868 by Hamilton W. Crabb, an innovator in wine marketing and vineyard techniques while today the Robert Mondavi Winery, University of California Davis and Andy Beckstoffer control most of its land. For McDonald To Kalon is simply a place entwined with his family’s history. 

Start raising a child 100 years before they are born because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into. #tokalon #graememacdonald #tokalon2017 #tokalonvineyard

“It was really for me a great way to document the history for our children. I want to leave something that explains why I am so passionate about it,” MacDonald said. “Start raising a child 100 years before their birth because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into.” The Wappo people called it “Tu-ia-halusi, or ”beautiful land” to describe the upper Napa Valley. The name To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty,” or the “highest good,” as per H.W. Crabb in 1889.   “I try to make it mean the boss vineyard,” says McDonald. Also a pivotal part in Aristotle and the most important (and first) wine poured in the time of Jesus. This from the most important winemaker in the history of Napa. It took 100 years after it was predicted by Crabb but that is when Graeme’s grandfather committed to Cabernet Sauvignon (circa 1978). The family wines were labeled under the name Detert Vineyards.

Flight #1

Global Styles

Château D’Issan 2013, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (511469, $114.00, WineAlign)

Tasted blind in Napa, the first impression is Chile due to the capsicum bite and wood that expresses as savour and piquancy. Herbal with currants and tobacco. Impressive smoky wood integration overtop gamey, Bretty, animale character which talks a Bordeaux vernacular. Fruit is subtle, restrained and waits for the finish. It’s Bordeaux, or course. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2017

#metaphysicalmonday #cliffmay #thenostalgiaoftheinfinite #dichirico #campanile #missionstyle

Concha Y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Terrunyo Las Terrazas Block, Andes Pirque Vineyard 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile (562918, $29.95, WineAlign, Escalade Wines)

Now a slight demure, dusty but cool, minty, creosote and graphite, like Coonawarra perhaps. Some granite soil funk so could also be South Africa and yet there is this very high acidity and eucalyptus. The aesthetic is more about fruit than tannic structure. Some carménère in here likely – the smoky edge would say so. It’s Chile because the herbs and black currants dominate so clearly from a warm part, i.e. Maipo. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2016

Big floral vintage for the single-vineyard Terrunyo cabernet, rich, lush and hedonism defined. The varietal stands out in the vintage with the heavy lean to fresh flowers, along with the waves of alternating blackberry and Cassis. The alcohol and the weight are certainly formidable but the aromatics and fruit heavy tonality keeps up with the heat. Big boned and barrel conscious, this CyT is a big wine for a modest price. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Mark de Vere MW

Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (SAQ 12449825, $54.00, Breakthru Bev Canada)

Ripe, high acidity, elevated tones and dark fruit. More like Argentina here and the palate also suggests Bordeaux but it’s too ripe. The high acid, metafictional mochafication and extreme ripeness puts my guess in McLaren Vale but also because of the richness and ripeness. Some dark red fruit is exceptional, part dried, with liquorice, both red and black. Really lovely wine, juicy, with a high level of fruit from some great vineyards. A genuine product of Sarah and Sparky Marquis from which 16 per cent alcohol is pulled off with remarkable ease, with thanks to tannic structure and extract. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Me and Mondavi

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Three Pines 2013, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (288316, $28.85, Vonterra)

This seems the most Californian but Alexander Valley in its current of currant and savour. Tastes like Clos du Bois, but we’re now in South Africa. Quite anti-reductive, little to do with granite, funky soil and rubber tree plants, but it hints at all this from Stellenbosch. like juicing liquorice, bokser and umeboshi plum mixed into Ribena for a juicy cocktail. This may be closer to Cali than the rest because of the supple triumvirate of fruit-acid-tannin for structure. Terrific representation from the Jonkershoek Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Flight #2

West Coast California

Justin Vineyards Isosceles 2015, Paso Robles, California (684282, $136.95, The Vine Agency)

Quite the Cassis richness and genteel nature, ripe but of a humble extraction with a distinct garrigue note. Very Napa-ilke though there is a high love of acidity. Tasted blind you might think it could very well be a Mondavi but it’s too jammy and there is a plethora of red fruit purée,. That it turns out to be from Paso Robles is a perfect example to show that further south can translate to a warmer climate… but not always. Cool nights are adding their own extreme example of diurnal temperature swings so that 16.0 per cent alcohol, coulis and acidity can coexist. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Chef Jeff Mosher’s Fresh Spring Pea Risotto at Mondavi

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains (89284, $86.95, Rogers and Company)

Quite savoury with Mediterranean accents, black olive and brine, cool and minty, seemingly accented with American oak. A cloudy moments suggests Alexander Valley, but clarity wins so better still Santa Cruz Mountains. So is this a Ridge? Elegant cabernet sauvignon, 75 per cent with merlot and bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Positioned to an ocean proximity overhanging Monterey Bay and above most of the fog so the growing climate is its own. Keeps sugar and alcohol down for a cool and elegant expression. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

From the next arid vintage with more immunity always gifted by the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir so that Ridge can do what they want and what is needed. Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot and quick Pollockian slashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc meet in the studio to create and complete the piece. There is more acidity and tension on the nose than noted in 2012, with red currants and black fruit swirling in coulis centrifuge to distract from what wants to grip and tear you away. The purity and cool texture of a Ridge cabernet is unlike any other; it stretches this way and that, never breaking, tearing or shearing but not because is has been patched, quilted or restored. It was always this way and will stay so for 15 to 20 years. Tannins are fine and support what happens, in any way they are asked to do. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2017

Tacos at Morimoto

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($80.00)

A bit of demure, lots of black fruit and a note or orange rind. Again terrific acidity, and tart, crisp, chocolate edging. Sensing a combination of oaks in that chemistry effect when merging into the fruit of Alexander Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, (255513, $44.95)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February and June 2016, May 2017

Bob Swanson of #napavalleyballoons is the man. Slice through butter flight over the Sacramento Valley to 1000 ft, #splashanddash in Putah Creek and a smooth, exacting landing on a dime on the back of a flatbed.

Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Drawn from Seven Hills’ founding blocks, planted by winemaker Casey McClellan and his father in the early 1980s. Very ripe, rich and unctuous aromatics, also floral, big tannic structure, candied complexion with mint chocolate candy cane and yet its aridity dominates the back side. Continental climate with maritime overtones in a Walla Walla cabernet under the influence of the rain shadow. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #3

Napa Rocks

Inherit The Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coombsville AVA

Inherit The Sheep, a multi-play on words, launching point “the meek shall inherit the earth,” followed by “the farmers shall inherit the sheep” and prophesied as Clay and Tersilla Gregory may never inherit anything else in their lives. As for cabernet sauvignon, Coombsville just seems to be a natural extension from the concept of Napa Rocks. As Mondavi’s Mark de Vere made sure to point out, “the reputation of Napa comes form the quality of the wine made here, not the quantity.” About 150 million years ago a domino of events began to occur…ocean plate under the continental plate….volcanic influence and marine rock. A mish-mash, super geological group of alloy musicians. Coomsville gets it too, exemplified by this rich, highly perfumed aromatic cabernet, soil a major factor in the duality of tart meets tang, some dried herbs and dusty, chalky tannins. As a memory, Clay Gregory used to be a GM at Mondavi. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2017

The meek shall? Focused alternative #napavalley AVA expression #tokalon2017 #coombsville

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (731810, $76.75, Mondia Alliance)

Deeper, higher tonality and lifted though it’s from liqueur and not acidity necessarily. So much chocolate, perhaps dominant by American oak but also a comestible layering and pressing that comes by ripe and concentrated fruit out of Stags Leap District. East side of the valley, volcanic and alluvial, so perhaps the place and its victuals speak loudest, dark chocolate and red cherry, quite chewy and with middle palate tannin, focused and lined. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon (West To Kalon Vineyard) 2013, Napa Valley

Very juicy, acidity driven, extraction and high level tonality. A fineness discerned with immediate notice, layer upon layer of distinction and elegance. Tasting blind it could be the Mondavi Reserve, acidity is very present balanced by plush fruit ripeness, blacker than red, slightly savoury and so Oakville. Turns out it is west To Kalon Vineyard though not labeled as such. For Graeme McDonald “it tastes like home.” Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

With Sara d’Amato

Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective 2013, Rutherford

The jam is in, a bit to the right of ripeness and so a left leaning structure. Already noting some balsamic, soy and even a faint tick of truffle, not quite raisin but there is an indication it’s beginning is around the corner. Tthe palate brings more energy but this lacks balance because the fruit is overripe. Three flavours. Rutherford Bench fruit. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Cade Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley (325027, $206.95, The Vine Agency)

Classic next level Napa Valley depth, structure and intendment. Full on welling sunken weight, oak very much apart of every moment but not overly spiced. Through that big oak bent there is something akin or at least draws memories to Atlas Mountain. Incredibly ripe with aggressive, thick, needing 10 years to devolve tannins. Could be Atlas but is in fact Howell Mountain, one of the eastern AVAs from which mountain fruit delivers more intensity of tannin. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #4

Oakville

Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley
From Linda Neal, long-time vineyard manager who purchased the Oakville property in 1987. A distinctly perfumed-floral cabernet sauvignon, of violets, but also a dusty, silty-salty mineral aroma. Terrific acidity, just terrific, the type of tart intensity that causes anticipatory salivation. Reminds of cabs off of Terra Rossa soil, a.k.a. Coonawarra but also the Panzano terroir of Carobbio. Geologically it’s volcanic in origin, off of a hillside vineyard. Intense and offering a fully focused commitment straight through the finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.95, The Vine Agency)

Richness but reserved, demure, unhurried in a calm state. More of an exotic perfume, jasmine and bougainvillea, still some salty grit and certainly mineral but fuller, with an ooze of dark chocolate and body politic by firmness and tannin. Beneficial bitters on the finish. It’s way, way too young to fully appreciate. Special fruit is saved for this next level cabernet sauvignon from its very own patch of free-draining alluvial soil. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Geneviève Janssens and Mark De Vere MW

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley (39388, $29.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

An annual parade of quality comes from Franciscan with this Napa Valley cabernet, a wine that is quietly commercial and respectfully true to its roots. It’s quite chalky and the tannic grain is truly in focus while the fruit speaks with premium ability, certainly sheathed by Americanized vanilla oak. Savoury to a point but still quite naked truthful about fruit in its ripe clothing. Always well made and at its best in 2014. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted October 2017

Even more reserve and also into reductive, with darkest fruit, Cassis, carob and graphite. So much chocolate, dark, bitter and high in cocoa. Coating tannin, present and demanding, a bit west. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Huh. A day after tasting these #tokalon wines #tokalon2017

Nickel & Nickel John C Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Dark cherry and Cassis oscillate in waves, punishing the shores of first prefacing perfume and then recursing acidity. A distinct profile that speaks so similarly to a Mondavi To Kalon but in Oakville…it’s hard to know, distinguish and be certain but so tempting to hedge guessing bets on origins. Such fineness, dramatic acidity and persistence, so not surprising it’s just across the road (Hwy 29). A very special tract of terroir in its own right this John C. Sullenger Vineyard. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley (29207, $59.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Oakville’s rich Cassis and mocha swirl welcomes wood and baking spice, then floral meets herbaceous Freesia. As a Mondavi cabernet, Oakville sits high up on the sapid meets tart scale and is expressly long. The palate really suggests older world Bordeaux but it’s almost too ripe, chalky, chocolate ganache rich, especially at the finish. A touch of Brett brings me back to structure and old world but there is an equal and opposing fruit-tannin seamlessness and smoothness. Its fineness of acidity means that it ends up balanced. Markedly correct, intense and proprietary for 2013. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017 and February 2018

Flight #5

To Kalon

Narrowing it down to the vineyard, De Vere is insistent on what matters. “Elements of style and quality, not just, but a stylistic, a feel, difference, less broad in expression like Oakville or classic like the direct Napa Valley tier.” Rutherford’s alluvial fan vs. To Kalon’s alluvial fan complex vs the same, but different, from Oakville. The east side of the Oakville AVA receives more of the warm afternoon sun as compared to the sedimentary-gravelly alluvial loam on the west, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the east. There they are low to moderate fertility and fairly deep. All this adds up to more than 100 soil variations in Napa Valley, one half of what exists on earth. To Kalon receives shade a full hour earlier than the east side of the valley. It’s reserve fruit is more likely to be found where the large pebble, gravelly, well draining soils are found, further west, abutted up against the mountain range.

As an aside, talk about Napa Valley wines often leads to the fruit-jam complex. “Fruit bombs (you will know),” says De Vere, “are not just a factor of sun, ripeness, and brix. They are a result of less tannin and acidity, from vines stressed after veraison to develop ripeness but without the balancing factors. To kalon’s soils develop acidity earlier and maintain it. Acid-tannin-pyrazine, that’s the order of development.

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley ($250.00 estimate, Halpern Enterprises)

Presented by Eduardo Dingler, Napa Sommelier. High toned, deep, deep dark fruit, gets right up the olfactory. Young, chalky, tart and with the dark fruit sitting serious and looming, like a cross-legged Buddha on the ledge of a 10-foot To Kalon wall. Sees 62 per cent new French oak after six to eight weeks cold soak pre-fermentation. In an environment without alcohol you get this layered juiciness and tart aromatics without astringency. That’s the crux and the key. Balance, density, true to the To Kalon spirit. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2017

Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($188.00 estimate)

Presented by Alpha Omega’s founding winemaker Jean Hoefliger. “Napa has a consistency of climate that is unmatched, anywhere.” On Andy Beckstoffer, “Andy was very receptive to my very expensive lap dances,” and about the vineyard, “in an era of globalization, To Kalon’s DNA is the most important in Napa Valley. The site in Napa easiest to find in a blind tasting because of acidity and tannin, backbone and skeleton.” Hoefliger’s ’13 cabernet sauvignon is a construct of granularly dense tannic structure and non-readjusted acidity. Darkness ascends or descends as the glass goes, brooding, seemingly from deeper clay soils within the alluvial variegation, a wine in which the tannins have been joined, linked, layered, polymerized. Having used a long maceration makes this dense, intense and ageable. To be exact, 45 days on skin, then in the end unfined and unfiltered. Wow does this remind me of modern Piedmontese nebbiolo but with so much more intense red fruit, notes of incense, wild fennel, cinnamon and candy hearts. Just tremendous structure. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted May 2017

Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($220.00 estimate)

Bright but at the same time with a hint of dried fruit so good balance between the two, meaning the acidity is in control. John Hazak: “What To Kalon has that separates itself from our iconic Hewitt Vineyard is age ability and a dense core that opens up with age. It sets it apart from our top Rutherford sites.” A chewy To Kalon by tempered ganache, a child reared on plenty of barrel fermentations to capture individual parcels of beautiful fruit. Carries a cool minty savour at the finish and lingers across the top of the gums above the teeth, leaving that anaesthetizing feeling. Brilliant in that respect, not quite ready though will come into its own not too far from now. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Station 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($150.00 estimate)

Certainly more dusty notes, garrigue, savour and a hint of black olive, but all red fruit. From Oakville Station (labeled as such, from the UC Davis grown plots of vines). “The best way to understand To Kalon on the surface is to take a bike ride,” says Charles Thomas. “to understand why a gradation across a kilometre is so crucial. There is ample tannin in To Kalon but also a fineness of tannin. It is forgiving of many aspects of viticulture and especially winemaking. You always see the vineyard.” A transitional wine, ripeness but not super so, perfumed and the subtleties of the vineyard. Cherry blossom big time. An island surrounded by Mondavi on all sides, more fertility here in this block, a soft, delicious chocolate finish. A transitional era styled wine. Aromatic and not with the same density (with 10 merlot and 5 cabernet franc)but beautiful all the same. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $149.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Mondavi’s 2013 Reserve from the iconic To Kalon Vineyard plays a different role when nosed side by five each with other similar terroir cabernets, in this case by Cliff Lede, Alpha Omega, Provenance and Cornerstone. The Mondavi would show as a muscular cabernet in a solo tasting irrespective of the flight but with relative reference points the Mediterranean savour stands apart, especially in this high-toned aromatic vintage. The wine is embossed and eschews syrup for chew and density, the chalky tannins already beginning to show some development and integration. After going through the basket press, the haute cultured barrels bring out this insieme-collective of sophisticated To Kalon sweet acidity and tannin, leaving extracted bitterness behind. This works in elevating the texture of silk and softness, insisting upon and stamping a guarantee of longevity. The excellence is rounded out with some fragrance from petit verdot and further finessed, grainy tannin by cabernet franc. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $300.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Tasted during a To Kalon Vineyard retrospective in Napa. Though sinfully young the 2014 seems bright and focused, accessible, closer to ready than the 2013. The secret, special, double secret bottle, only 150 cases made, not really available for trade, pure To Kalon. Refined, here and only here as 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, spice but melted and oozing into that liqueur, there is a seamlessly woven fabric of vineyard that just seems soft, supple and elastic. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2017

And a few more Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that May

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, Napa Valley

The 2010 Reserve is a sensory wine in the most attention grabbing way, as experiential and inspirational as can be when such an inhalant gets hold of the senses. Deepest dark fruit of impossibly zero evolution and everything in line with the classic Mondavi-To Kalon relationship. Blackberry, Cassis, black olive and silkened in texture as the Reserve can ever be. Pure weave, ethereal liquidity, fresh, finessed, focused and exacting. Tough on a winemaker? That’s why this is so good. A grand cru Oakville classic, great wine from a challenging vintage. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Actually some development here, straight into secondary time framing from which balsam and spice are front and centre. The masala comes from cassia stick, bokser pod and liquifies in plum liqueur. Lots of chocolate ganache and in some ways the least indicative Mondavi Reserve vintage for a To Kalon cabernet sauvignon. Acidity is quiet and perhaps this is just a moment in time. Maybe in a year or two the acids will step out of the shadows and rear up once again but I wouldn’t wait nor hold my breath. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, Napa Valley

Tasted in an auspicious group that included a Gros Clos Vougeot ’13, Grange ’11, Haut-Brion ’11 and Sassicaia ’11, all led by Mark de Vere MW and culminating at this Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve ’05. Or as what De Vere quips, “just another night in Napa Valley.” A cool vintage now showing some secondary notes though still presenting balsam, tempered chocolate ganache, pencil lead and graphite. Floral vintage of ethereal whispers and the trilogy promise of the EPF. Elegance, power and finesse. Dark To Kalon fruit and mouth-watering acidity with a vanishing point of mystery still on the horizon, like walking with someone we don’t fully know but feel comfortable in their presence. Still elicits more questions than answers so for a vintage like 2005, 12 years seems to be peak performance. The tannic finish supports Cassis, dried herbs and a briny Mediterranean black olive bite. Tannin begets fine bitters. “Using oak is the virtuoso way to express To Kalon fruit,” says Geneviève Janssens, “after fermentation, to preserve the personality of To Kalon.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988, Napa Valley

A vintage of reducing and concentrating liqueur, high-toned, distillate, California IGT. A bottling style of the time and the vintage must have procured such fruit meets tannic intensity that it has taken a long time to relent. Higher in acidity than savour, pulsating, energetic. Still a bit frenetic in its wildly animated state of perpetual suspension. A bit Bretty but 1988 carries such an old world sentimentality and the many ties that bind. Despite the great and gritty acidity it remains a balanced cabernet sauvignon, earthy and old school but I’d wager it will continue to drink this way for seven to 10 more years. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1976, Napa Valley

“What order to do pour a vertical tasting,” asks Mark de Vere MW. “When you have 1988, 1999 and 2000 in the mix? You have to think about how the wines were made, how the grapes were grown, without sophisticated equipment, with vineyard managers and winemakers who didn’t know then what they know now.” But, this house named Mondavi has seemingly always known, respected and responded collectively over these things. The terroir – To Kalon. Since tasting 1975 one year ago I can say this: 1976 is remarkably alive, sound and vital. From a very dry year. Ten days of “prolonged” skin-contact. Dill present along with preserved plum, of course mushroom, truffle and what separates this from ’75 is acidity, equal to over even performing above that of 1980. Spice! Tart and still intense. Amazing. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX Red Wine 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley (SAQ, $75.75)

As always the high quality To Kalon fruit as a base source puts the odd in high favour but the idea here is to use parcels that produce lushness and lower tannin so that the wine gifts quite a bit more instant gratification. Mostly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and originally only sold on premise. Extension through barrel is 24 months in mixed (55/45) Allier French for a liquid chalky result, preserved top notch acidity and a sharpness that demands protein attention. Can’t miss the graphite/pencil lead and in this specific case, tongue tripping vowels which talk the talk of this specific red blend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville District, Napa Valley

When tasted side by side the genetic lineage and connection to 1999 at ten years apart is uncanny and so it is To Kalon that ties the two, threads the similarity and is the reason. Black olive as always, dusty garrigue and this medi-pedi (Mediterranean pedigree) that unites all cabernet sauvignon from Oakville sites. Same wisdom and freedom, same feeling felt. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley

Has aged with To Kalon grace and while texture is seemingly everything, still you are reminded to engage with the fully seasoned, exigent exhale from the spice box. Aromatically present in balsam and fig, the vineyard’s black olive and then acidity off the proverbial charts. We see how To Kalon mellows in Oakville form, integrates and acts out the marshmallow of time. Hinting now at the tertiary which comes quicker in this range and that is perfectly, allegedly understandably fine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2013, Napa Valley

As with the sauvignon blanc the fruit source is Schweitzer Vineyard, here for the cabernet from three blocks all leading to a bigger, fleshier style. Treated similarly to the Oakville cabernet, long maceration in oak fermenters and 24 months barrel time, six more than the Oakville Reserve because these tannins need further taming. Deep red fruit in tones of strawberry, raspberry and plum with moments that are not unlike European reds in hot climate/seasons. Turns to spicy white toffee, vanilla and before too long the screeching breaks down the scree of tannin. Wait five years. Trust that idea. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2017

A few basic bottles were on hand to greet us @RobertMondavi before the finest wines and cake were offered.

And the opening wines in Mondavi’s cellars

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Ac Pessac Léognan (263251, $1,599.85)

A cabernet sauvignon dominant Pessac Léognan off of gravel soils in contrast to some other First Growths Haut Brion is keenly about Château, of reputation, history and acumen. A Bordeaux to cause revelry and from 2011 fresh like you could never expect or imagine. Lithe and mineral, dusty stone and focused. Of continental temper and elegance, black olive and quality chocolate, toasty espresso and late arriving spice. Taste, gather, repeat. Will surely develop next level time-honoured notes of forest floor, mushroom and delicately rendered baking spice. In 20 years and further long-lived expectations. My kind of longevity though the fineness says it will ready itself quite soon. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Domaine Gros Frère Et Soeur Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2013, AOC Bourgogne ($300.00)

From the top of the slope at Musigny in a distinct and compelling Clos de Vougeot of intensity and finesse. Deep rooted earth and black cherry fruit, so much fragrance and delicate. A just sharpened pencil, a brush with fennel and lavender, a gaze through a looking glass. At its most calm, a palate silky and accented by a complex mix of spice. A wine to ask “what makes a great wine.” So much more than the length and the finish, always circling back to the start and about the quality of the bitters in their refinement. Where in the process does this occur? When is the magic performed? All the way through and as a by-product of the paradigm of site. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $229.95)

Showing maximum warmth and spirit, high savour by liquorice, mint, fennel and so much spice. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta fixing Bolgheri just as his father did while Robert Mondavi was doing so in Oakville at To Kalon. Revolutions is different places and for Sassicaia, a clear varietal vernacular. Apposite Bordeaux like power and a supple wrist in using extra hands with cabernet franc. Still those chalky tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Last tasted May 2017

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, cabernet franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smouldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014

Good to go!

godello

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Twitter: @mgodello

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California Update: Napa Valley

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

We have all been thinking about California lately. As of September 15th a staggering 7,718 wildfires have burned 3,154,107 acres, damaged or destroyed 5,412 structures and killed 20 people. Devastating numbers and when you begin to read headlines like “Maps: Fires and Air Quality in California, Oregon and Washington,” “California wildfires leave behind trail of devastation and death” and “Smoke from the U.S. wildfires has reached six Canadian provinces,” well then you begin to worry about so many more people and places. Be thankful there is wine.

If intoxicating then well, wine is also nourishing, may even heal the ulcers through which we in the world are bleeding and the acreage where those on the west coast are burning. That is why yesterday’s communication from Napa Valley Vintners struck a chord. The press release began this way. “Wine has the power to bring people of all different backgrounds together. The vintners in Napa Valley believe our community and industry should be open and welcoming to people of colour, whether working in the industry, visiting Napa Valley or enjoying our wines anywhere. With that in mind, today we pledge over $1,000,000 in scholarship and mentorship programs to increase diversity, inclusivity and opportunity in all aspects of the wine industry.” Amazing. The world is burning all around and Napa Valley keeps working towards what’s better, planning for what’s essential and announcing the following:

We are proud to team up with the following organizations to achieve this goal:

  • Bâtonnage: Educating on the challenges and opportunities women and minorities face in the wine industry
  • UNCF (United Negro College Fund): Giving all Americans equal access to a college education
  • Wine Unify: Amplifying the diverse voices of wine professionals

This new support builds on NVV’s longtime commitment to youth mentorship programs in Napa County through Auction Napa Valley proceeds. This year alone, nearly $2 million was invested in nine local non-profits whose mission is to close the achievement gap and help at-risk youth succeed. We have asked our members and trade partners to join us in this effort. While there is still much work ahead, we look forward to welcoming an increasingly diverse chorus of voices to our valley and our industry. Learn more about the NVV efforts.

Invest $1 million in new scholarships

NVV will partner with UNCF to create a new scholarship program for people of color to pursue college degrees in subjects ranging from grape growing, winemaking, marketing, business and more. Each year over the next five years, NVV will invest $200,000 in scholarships and will encourage its members to bolster the scholarship program with donations to help even more students and to ensure the effort extends beyond five years. UNCF has been managing scholarships for minority students for 75+ years and is the largest and most successful minority organization of its kind.

Invest more than $100,000 in two new mentorship programs

  • Bâtonnage fosters solutions for a more positive, inclusive path forward for women and ethnic and racial minorities to achieve equal representation, equal opportunities and equal leadership positions within our industry. Over the next three years, NVV will help fund a mentorship program aimed at providing resources, guidance, recommendations, internships and training programs.
  • Wine Unify was founded by Napa locals Martin Reyes MW, DLynn Proctor, and Mary Margaret McCamic MW. Their mission is to welcome, elevate, and amplify the voices of underrepresented minorities through mentorship and education. NVV has committed to work with Wine Unify over the next three years to help fund their ongoing programs.

Which brings me back to an event in Toronto one year ago, hosted by Napa Valley Vintners and their Canadian partner Paula Oreskovich at Energy Plus Communications. Napa Valley “Celebration of Excellence” Speed Tasting and Trade Tasting was held on November 7th at the Royal Ontario Museum. More than 25 vintners from the Napa Valley were on hand. Trade were afforded three minutes with each producer/vintner to hear their story, taste their two wines per station and ask questions before moving on to the next vintner. It was a thrilling experience as a dating journey to Napa Valley from grape to glass. Wines from Napa, Spring Mountain, Oak Knoll, Oakville, Stags Leap, St. Helena, Yountville, Rutherford, Calistoga and other appellations were poured. Most impressive were the many varied back vintages shared by these producers and their Ontario agents. 

Donate here to California Wildlife Fire Funds and also here

So the question begs, why am I sharing my tasting notes with you now, almost one year later. First and foremost to remind us all that California needs to be front and centre in our minds and hearts. Second, many of these singular wines are still available in very limited quantities through VINTAGES. Third, because I feel like it. Here are my notes on 24 wines tasted.

Artesa Vineyards And Winery Estate Pinot Noir 2016, Carneros (12519, $60.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

From the Napa Valley side of Carneros but also with fruit grown up as far as the foothills of Mount Veeder. Very pure and clear pinot, red fruit juicy, candied in a terrifically stylish and delicious way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Blackbird Vineyards Arise 2016, Napa Valley ($79.00, Paradigm Fine Fine Agency)

From winemaker Aaron Pott, mainly Oak Knoll fruit off of 20-plus lots sourced in Napa Valley off mountain tops, from hillsides, on bench lands and off of valley floor vineyards. Nearly two years in half new, half seasoned French barrels. A blend of merlot (55 per cent), cabernet franc (25) and cabernet sauvignon 17) with a splash of petit verdot in a mere mortal’s affordable flagship red. Surely a nod to Pomerol with a wink at Napa Valley. Tart, intense tang and really good acidity but also woody and yes the name is Beatles related. “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Black Stallion Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Transcendent 2015, Napa Valley (439968, $200.00, Select Wine Merchants)

From the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley and surely Black Stallion’s head of the stable, signature triple-crown wine. A top tier cabernet sauvignon made from the best grapes grown on mountain sites above the fog line. Not just one hilltop vineyard with a view but several; Veeder, Spring, Diamond and Howell, with two per cent Oakville tossed in for good grounding and balancing measure. A four-part essential, Mountain Napa a cappella performance that simply demonstrates, in complex music written for four voices, what a layered wine cane be and in doing so, expresses wow factor times four. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Cain Vineyard And Winery Cain Five 2013, Napa Valley (727925, $199.95, Rogers and Company)

Bordeaux idea with fruit from Spring Mountain, five pronged and truth be told only Cain Five smells this. Earth and soil, elevation and intensity. Botanicals, tar, hillside tea, brush and weeds, natural yeasts and so bloody savoury. Sensorial experience in the fifth degree. Persistently doles out palate amercements with seamless consistency and the pain is all pleasure, each lashing accepted submissively like the one before. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2015, Napa Valley (12544, $100.00, The Vine Agency)

Fruit sources are both Stags Leap District and Yountville AVAs with smaller portion support by petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s predominately SLD with one quarter coming from Yountville in a most classically dark-berried and unctuous Napa Valley style. The aridity of the vintage and at this point the age have conspired to accentuate the concentration and the spice. Correct to the nth degree. Drink 2019-20212.  Tasted November 2019

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon Hommage 2014, Napa Valley (739219, $156.00, Azureau Wines and Spirits)

A reserve cabernet sauvignon at 77 per cent with petit verdot in Calistoga. Bloody unctuous, deliciously lush and luxe cabernet. Though set into a price range with parameters of equivocation, for those who seek the tête de cuvée of a professional Napa Valley estate’s cabernet range with a true microcosmic sense of place, this Hommage signature from Clos Pegase will rise to that fore. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley ($150.00, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

The signature cabernet sauvignon from southern valley sites where cooler winds can prevail and off of estate vineyards in the Mount Veeder and Napa Valley AVA’s. This ’16 is possessive of it all with twang acidity tang surrounding the rich chalky liquidity of the southern valleys’ cabernet beauty. Highly composed wine, in total clarity, control and surprisingly fresh alacrity. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Eleven Eleven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Laki’s Vineyard 2016, Napa Valley

From winemaker Kirk Venge who practices the art of fashioning varietal wines “for more glasses”, and making a wish for all of us to stop everything you’re doing, to take stand and notice that “this is what we’ve made.” Not so much a contemplation, rumination or meditation as a recognition and an appreciation. In this case a 100 per cent estate Oak Knoll cabernet aged in 80 per cent new French Oak for silky smooth texture and dry as the desert styling. Quite finessed and harnessed for exemplary balance. Ready to rock. Drink 2  020-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley (96016, $25.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Hand-brushed vineyards, which is winemaker Jenny Wagner’s way of crop thinning. Good acidity lean and sharp, really impressive and in a vein quantifiable as the most appreciable of all the Caymus stylings. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena (12521, $269.00, Lifford Wines and Spirits)

From the family property in St. Helena and cabernet sauvignon planted in 1990 on deep and low fertility Cortina soils. Mixes in one-quarter cabernet franc from Rosemary Cakebread’s vineyards in the Oakville range, 130m above the Silverado Trail. All organic, with the franc brining in components of florals and posit tugs of savour, sapidity and physicality. Not that the sauvignon needed any help because that fruit is rich, wise and complex as a stand alone but the franc surely elevates the entire collective into rareified air. Tasted with Gallica’s Sales Director Alex French. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Oakville (606517, $120.00, The Vine Agency)

Suzanne Groth’s 2015 is the first vintage with new Director of Winegrowing Cameron Parry, hired in 2014 as only the third winemaker in Groth’s history since the family’s first vintage in 1982. The estate cabernet’s fruit comes from right in Oak Knoll and may just be the dictionary entry for parochial red fruit with its distinct savoury edginess. That said you feel or at least intuit the 14 per cent inclusion of merlot what with a subtle doubling down of brushy autumnal dried fruit and verdant notes. Overall tart and beautiful, an honest and true expression of Groth and Oak Knoll. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (273391, $99.00, Noble Estates)

Hall is based in St. Helena and in a Napa Valley tasting of 24 diverse options of great and elevated quality it is unequivocally the most forward and naturally understood wine in the room. If perhaps it presents as simple on the outside it is confidently complex on the inside. In this regard you can imagine the sentiment provided by 50 per cent new oak but you feel it bigger, better and more so on the palate. Provides the context for texture, of a seamless blending in chocolate and chalk. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2019

Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville (534800, $113.00, Wilson Group Wines & Spirits)

From the 1983 planted 10 acre estate vineyard in Oakville, very much considered the flagship wine. Only To Kalon shares a volcanic element affinity with the quarter portion at Hoopes, an important if not profound geological inclusion in the Oakville sub-appellation. Lindsay Hoopes is justifiably high on this 2014 from Spencer Hoopes and fruit found at the base of Yountville Hill. In addition to being basaltic it’s also the most geologically diverse on the valley floor; contains sand and clay in packed density and as determined by the legend David Howell, ’tis is magical place, here confirmed in what is truly a cabernet of magic. Now having arrived in its window, have a go and then repeat for the next 10 years. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Keenan Merlot 2015, Napa Valley ($50.00, Profile Wine Group)

Plum dusty, chalky and verdant. Showing some dried fruit. Spring Mountain portion is quantifiably structured, though also agreeable in ageable fruit. Thirty five is Carneros fruit so a merge of two cool climates. Quite charming in the end. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley ($84.95, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.)

Ashley Heisey’s 2014 is more than just a child of a most arid vintage in Napa Valley’s recent history, it was also early and with no frost during bud break, the strong, early fruit set in the vineyard organized the season on a collision course with all things warmth. High temperatures and no rain meant an early August harvest of cabernet fruit already deep into black cherry and blackberry. By 2019 this LMR signature red is speaking in Mayacamas Mountains tones, resonant, baritone and profound. The drying of fruit, spices and tannins are combining at a vanishing point from which perspective optimizes in the here and now. Drink this in perfect window opportunity over the next two years. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Luna Vineyards Sangiovese 2016, Napa Valley (La Céleste Levure)

From two elevations, floor and foothills, mainly planted in 1999. Game Farm Vineyard on the Silverado Trail below Rector Creek Dam is the most important source, of shallow, rocky soils that stress the deprivation out of need to struggle sangiovese. The cooler Napa Valley sites bring the savour and ulterior form of tension to the mix. Elévage is warm fermentation, malolactic encouraged, 30 per cent new French and Hungarian oak barrels for 20 months. The result is in a Chianti Classico Riserva vein, fruit highly concentrated with some dried desiccated notes and no shortage of local savour. That’s really what separates it into a Napa Valley thing, far away from the Tuscan homeland. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2010, Napa Valley ($140.00, Andrew Peller Import Agency)

Fabulous retrospective look back at a wine produced by the then 32 year-old winery from a selection of grapes from all four estate vineyards located in the home lands of the winery. A highly specific gander into Napa Valley’s smallest AVA, very influenced by marine essence for a guarantee of freshness that persists even today. Rich but compressed and dried herb sumptuous. Beautiful wine, so textured and having been purposed for structure now resides in a realm dominated by sweet spice. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena (12528, $265.00, Le Sommelier Inc.)

Revana Family Vineyards is owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana who currently is a practicing Cardiologist in Houston, Texas. Thomas Rivers Brown is now employed as winemaker and Jim Barbour as Vineyard Manager. Taken from eight acres, planted in 1998 with the first vintage being 2001, originally in the hands of Heidi Barrett and this was her last vintage. A geological site in St. Helena of alluvial flow off of the Mayacamas range. Intense black olive and very Mediterranean in complex scenting with great acidity. All in Cassis fills the flavour profile. Ten year-old cabernet sauvignon still going strong. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Rocca Family Vineyards Vespera 2016, Napa Valley ($84.00, Brand New Day Wines & Spirits)

“Vespera,” as in late-evening, gathering time. Estate grown and organically farmed red blend from Collinetta Vineyard in Coombsville and Grigsby Vineyard in Yountville. Varietal composition is 57 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (37) syrah and (6) merlot, aged 17 months in small French oak barrels, 65 per cent new. Floral and beautiful, silky, silken, lush and so elongated. Spiced and juicy peppery, warm to humid with generous alcohol though very fluid and forward. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2019

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley (60152, $124.95, Profile Wine Group) 

A massively structured and concentrated wine with teeming and oozing fruit, heavy barrel accord in which texture and tannin weave a future likely to unwind over two decades time. Classic Signorello spice and red citrus. Very limited quantities (by mailing list only) and out of the hands of a new winemaking team. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Silenus Cabernet Sauvignon Tyros 2015, Napa Valley (16409, $49.95, Carpe Vinum International)

From Oak Knoll and fruit that used to be sold to Mondavi, very modern and with 22 per cent merlot. Verdant liqueur tones and real glycerin. Herbal and slick with a thinning in elasticity. “Mini” debauching here. As for the name, Tyros means apprentice, in reference to Silenus being mentor to charge or beginner Dionysus. Also an old Greek naval town in Arcadia, Peloponnese. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Taub Family Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges Iii Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley (12538, $225.00) 

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family is part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The overall pedigree is at the top of the unparalleled game and so huge fruit expected, hedonistic result gained. So much fruit, spicy and massive structure with the future holding so much truffle and charcoal, figs so very Rutherford and could only be from the place. Massive chew of cabernet sauvignon fruit and also very seasoned into the Ribena. All that said there is something hidden, something potentially profound about the Chiaroscuro magic concealed within. Wouldn’t be in a such a hurry to find out what lurks inside this rare Napa Valley wine. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot The Cowgirl And The Pilot 2016, Napa Valley ($125.00, Vinexx)

A tribute to Janet & John Trefethen, Cowgirl and Pilot respectively, from a vineyard planted in 2003. Merlot grows best on the clay-loam-silty soil valley floor and the site confirmed the potential from the very first vintage, so says Jon Ruel, CEO and viticulturalist. This truly is Napa merlot, from thinned clusters, trimmed of tips and shoulders like pinot, evenly ripened and it shows. Seamless merlot to be sure with a beautifully spicy finish. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon BRV 2013, Napa Valley (514224, $120.00, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

Part of the third generation Heritage Collection line in the hands of Bob Torres nearly 70 years into the family’s work at Trinchero. Off of soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the BRV comes from the Atlas Peak AVA and my is it big and brawny. So much black olive, brood and badass attitude, inclusive of a 10 percent mix of malbec and petit verdot. They add structure in a wine of crazy high pH (3.95). Just wow. Still a bambino. Drink 20121-2031.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Speed date afternoon with some of @napavintners finest

Twitter: @mgodello

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Gone Vajra in Piemonte

Stained Glass Window by Padre Costantino Ruggeri and Vajra’s Inox Tanks

Head west from the village of Barolo, climb the SP3 up to 400 metres above sea level and you will arrive in Vergne, the highest village of the regal Piedmontese appellation. This is where the most forward thinking, visionary and traditionally romantic estate of G. D. Vajra is found. Vajra is the house that Aldo and Milena Vaira built, are in the continued process of building (literally) and produce wines along with their children, Francesca, Giuseppe and Isidoro. On a recent December 2019 trip to Piemonte I drove down the A33 from Asti through Alba, skirted Barolo up the SP3 to spend a few hours with Isidoro and Francesca Vaira on a soggy Sunday morning. Vajra’s wines have been trending big time, gaining ground, rising in prominence and spreading fast. I knew it was time to find out why things have gone Vajra.

Family, roots and vineyards. Having talked and tasted with Francesca and Isidoro @vajra_barolo there can be no doubt many words and feelings will follow. Their’s is a story of resilience and constant renewal.

If you engage in obsessive study or even share a casual interest in religious iconography and emblematic ordnance then the term Vajra will no doubt be recognizable. Vajra, a symbolic ritual tool or object used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism to represent the unyielding power of spirit. Vajra, the symbol of the Vajrayāna school of Buddhism, a type of club with a ribbed spherical head, the “diamond thunderbolt.” The family may not adhere to the far eastern credo or for that matter even mention any possibility of connection, but a listen to their story and a study of their life’s work can be looked at in the emblematic light of ideals relating to indestructibility and irresistible force. An explanation is forthcoming and in due course.

Dude’s getting married next week. No wonder Isidoro Vaira is a happy man.

It’s only one week before his wedding and Isidoro generously takes the time to meet. He begins with a winter’s tale, extolling the virtues of snow cover, which incidentally arrived to the slopes in December and early January, then subsequently disappeared for the remainder of the mild 2020 winter. The Piedmontese saying goes like this. Sotto la neve, il pane, orunder the snow, the bread.” Snow is better than water because it holds more oxygen and encourages the plants to draw more nutrients from the soil. This is an example of generational knowledge because as Isidoro reminds us, when you spend time with your father and the elders “you learn the importance of nature.”

sotto la neve, il pane

under the snow, the bread

Aldo Vaira began this six decades old journey in 1970 with a 0.3 hectare plot at Bricco Viole. The first vintage was 1972, of no ripeness and fruit sold away. He thought “with this money I don’t pay for my work,” and so began to bottle for himself. By 1986 Aldo was farming seven hectares but on the 29th of May the storm of the century killed everything, save for 300 bottles worth of fruit. He was in his mid-30s, with one child already born and two more to come over the next four years. It was what we call the point of calling it quits or forging ahead with no turning back. Milena stepped up, in fortitude, conviction and an ultimatum issued to her husband. Aldo responded, made a life decision and ploughed ahead.

The Vairas began anew, hailstorms occurring five to seven times each decade be damned and dug their heels into the Vergne terra firma.  With experience as a teacher and having built a winery Aldo became affectionately known as Dutur, a dialectical Piedmontese term of endearment which could allude to the word doctor but also as a part of the Italian word for producer, or produttore. Francesca tells me that 1986 is the vintage form which “you could have (or begin) your dream, by being resilient, persistent and move forward.” She shrugs. “It had to be a priority.” And so from 1986 on the Viaras completely changed direction and course.

Thirty-three years have beget great success. Francesca explains the impetuses for how her family goes about their lives. “What we have learned from our parents is not just life and to make wine but a social motivation to have the life of the people. Imagine a life without these things; music, art, books and wine. It’s not possible.” The goal is to make connections. “We need to make wine to make people happy. Our prices are very democratic.” There are always new considerations, like the “diversification of risk” and it has become the ingrained philosophy, in terms of wines and varieties but also the idea of a two-month long picking time. Always diversity, all the time. One step inside the winery and the light shines in. The stained glass windows that adorn the fermentation room are a reflection of everything that is embodied by the Vajra oeuvre.

They hang in their stark and prolate ways as a severe yet arrant contrast to the line of steel tanks below. When Aldo and Milena went to visit the artist at Canepanova Convent in Pavia he answered the door dressed as a Franciscan Monk with a blue hat. A crazy man in a crazy beautiful studio. Padre Costantino Ruggeri was in fact a real monk, ordained a priest in 1951 by Cardinal Schuster in the Cathedral of Milan. That meeting yielded no conclusion for a commission, or so thought the Vairas, that is until the Father showed up with the first installation, in 1989. He was given no instruction or direction. The rest as they say is history and the works are nothing short of magnificent. They succeed, in Ruggeri’s words, “in that moment of light and mystery the stained glass window captures (the infinite) and introduces it naturally into the temple, as a total dimension that is divine as well as human.” The metal that holds the glass is effected a piombo, aplomb, vertical, exact. No two pieces are the same.

What congruence links a Ruggeri stained glass to other masterpieces of art? Gazing upon the padre’s windows elicits a feeling of consonance and beauty is easy to find. They are arranged exactly as they should be, that much is clear. Their power is felt because of their interaction with their cold and utilitarian surroundings. They hold our gaze and work together with us, inexplicably and without reservation. Their universal appeal transfers energy, pivots, solicits our personal and singular nature so that we share in their consonant form.

On June 24th 2007, his last sculptural work representing “Franciacorta’s Facets” was presented in Adro, his birthplace. On the following day, June 25th 2007, Costantino died at the hospital of Merate, near the convent of Sabbianello, where he had spent the last weeks of his life. The spirit of his work carries on at Vajra where 160 different fermentations are carried out because explains Francesca “harvest is the only time of year when you can really learn. If you have to ask for permission then you are not a true artist.” Just like Father Costantino who created without asking.

“Always think of the cherry. The grapes will follow,” reminds Isidoro. Organics. Methodologies. Patience. Picking decisions are made day by day, by brother Giuseppe and by Aldo. For them 2018 was a great nebbiolo vintage, of cold nights and warm days with humidity. The high risk of rainstorms at harvest made for some sleepless nights and the weather was tough on the skins of the grapes. So 100 pickers were employed, to ensure quality but Vajra’s altitude and attitude makes them one of the last to pick so the harvesters were available. They finished on October 22nd and in 2019 on the 23rd. 

On that day in December Francesca poured seven of her family’s wines, including riesling, dolcetto, freisa, barbera and nebbiolo. These are my notes.

G.D. Vajra Riesling Pétracine 2018, Langhe DOC ($55.95)

The law changed to be able to plant in 1985 and a new opportunity arose in 2018 for a vineyard with sandy soil beneath the clay. Going back the first planting came from a Geisenheim clonal selection and planted at the top of the hill above the cru Fossati. The second vineyard is from Marcel Deiss clonal selection material, just outside the Barolo production area. Here a combination of the two, and the first wine that got together was 2011. There’s weight, energy and balance to this riesling and it is so very real. Remarkable verve and youthful freshness and the impression of great aridity. It is in fact quite dry. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati 2018, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC ($31.95)

From two old cru Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, close by to one another at the top of their shared hill. De-stemmed and crushed separately, of vines 40 years in age. If there is dolcetto that carries the structure to age you best believe this is the one. Tannic in its youth, a house with the potential to grow roses in one year and then violets in another. Modern and grounded, better with fresh eggs and delicate proteins, certainly the romantic tartufo Piemondtese. Already teasing something floral but still in a shell and cast under a spell. Wait two years or more. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017 ($31.95)

Like the dolcetto, barbera is drawn off of two vineyards with tow soil types, from Bricco delle Viole and in Serralunga d’Alba, Bricco Bertone. An east-west expression, at once rich and luxurious and then inward, implosive and almost intolerant. Could only be barbera with its sweet fruit and dark berry compote but it’s a variety that needs time, it needs the bottle and then, the glass. Somehow bright through all the dark fruit, like the singular stained glass that allows light to shine in.  Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Kyè 2015, Freisa Langhe DOC ($60.95)

Like the French “C’est qui?” this dialectical freisa is actually two syllables, key-eh, and you cannot define this wine with anything or any other freisa. Darker, woolly and a bit of wild, feral and animale beauty. Like somewhere between red Sancerre and Faugères but bigger, more power and also more control. Herbaceous, iron-clad and hematic. Mimics blood-red preparations of proteins; duck breasts, rack of lamb, venison. Also Rhône-ish and laying somewhere between barbera and nebbiolo. Make your head spin with comparisons when none are correct. There is evidence of climatic cut and biodynamic preparations. Earthy, rich and poignant. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2018 ($34.95)

The Baroli are made from vines minimum 10 years old and the younger vines are used for this Langhe, which includes fruit from Bricco Bertone just outside the territory. Creeps up with its structure, nothing powerful or demanding but nebbiolo architecture nonetheless. Cherries, pencil lead and mountain herbs. Keeps the vineyard faith and accumulates even as it opens which tells us it is also youthfully closed. The potential is two years and thence forth. Tasted from two bottles opened a day apart, the first ready and willing, the second yes at first and then making a request for time. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Coste Di Rose 2015 ($101.95)

A very sandy decomposed peculiar site and soil type rich in Arenaria (sandstone) with the presence of sandstone rocks of quite decent size. The first vintage is this 2015 and from vines 30 years old going up the hill from Bussia. Delivers very pretty fruit of sneaky structure and intent. The rose floral gift of a vineyard, part apposite and part complimentary to Bricco delle Viole. It’s a ventilated place translating to a great freshness in the wine. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco delle Viole 2015 ($113.95)

An about face in style and character with more dimensions accessed and so many aromatics acquiesced. Vines are 40-80 years old and the handling involves a diversification of treatments; longer maceration and fermentation, up to 45-60 days. A tight, compact and fine-grained construct with so much taken from the beneficial skins and the assistance of a submerged cap (a merso) during that fermentation (in stainless steel), followed by at least 24 months in large casks, some 25hL and some 50 hL. Some tonneaux but just as an addendum. Such a tactile nebbiolo, fruit of presence and intricacy out of a Cru that is felt as much as it is nosed or tasted. It’s not just a matter of nebbiolo and Barolo but a thing of great importance, mainly tradition and family. Drink 2023-2034.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

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Stained Glass and Inox Tanks

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Feeling Panzano’s pull

During the final days of September 2019 we Canadians made our way to Toscana for a week of Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico business. While a group of road hardy cicliste e ciclisti were racing their team bikes up, down and around the Granfondo del Chianti Classico winding roads of the territory and others were taking in the sights of Firenze, I was strolling through the Sunday market, visiting with friends and pre-tasting some sangiovese di Panzano. Every time I go I find myself feeling Panzano’s pull.

Godello, Cecchini, Manetti

Panzano’s central Chianti Classico location is crucial in so many ways. Its two most famous inhabitants and native sons are the Consorzio’s incumbent President and proprietor of arguably the territory’s most well-known and respected family-run, not too large, not too small sized estate. That would be Fontodi’s Giovanni Manetti. The second is the village’s figlio nativo and world famous butcher, Antica Macelleria Cecchini’s Dario Cecchini. Panzano is also home to the Conca d’Oro and few vineyard enclaves are as prolific, scenic and fertile as this wide swath of sangiovese heaven. The frazione within Greve commune is also invisibly set upon the Greve River flood plane, positioned with stead grace and soil exceptionality.

Within Greve it occupies a centrality bordered by commune neighbours Castellina, Barberino Tavarnelle and Radda. You might actually imagine Panzano as the exact middle inside a circle drawn clockwise from Greve in Chianti (12 o’clock), to Volpaia (three o’clock), through Castellina in Chianti (six o’clock), past San Donato (nine o’clock) and back to Greve. Heart of the matter.

Panzano above the Conca d’Oro

Related – The ins and outs of Panzano in Chianti

Two years ago I wrote about Panzano and its pioneering association of producers, the Unione Viticoltori Panzano. Please click on the link above to get the full story on Panzano and its raison d’être. The original Panzano Winemakers Association was founded in 1995 to celebrate common ground and for like-minded producers to articulate the necessity and pursuit of shared interests. With the famous Conca d’Oro at its epicentre, Panzano encompasses a set of hills aboard and encircling a plateau rich in Galestro and a rather significant altitude where vineyards are planted to between 350 and 500 meters above sea level.

Breathing in the glory of the Conca d’Oro

Related – Chianti Classico’s big Raddese

Consider Panzano as a wild unknown country where nothing could go wrong, as a dividing line running through the centre of town, as a ridge slicing on a diagonal axis from Volpaia in Radda to Mercatale in San Casciano, direction Casanuove. All part of the same hill. The ridge’s particular geological composition is consistent and these atmosphera sottosuolo soils that run through Panzano are the epicentral factor in determining the type of physiology common to the sangiovese. Somewhere, somehow, that means something, to someone. It’s a savoury-sapid-saltiness equipped with acidity that makes Panzano’s a freshness not really like any other. This is especially true in Riserva and even in Gran Selezione examples. 

Panzano rocks are all in

These words about Panzano are part of a contiguous acceleration to investigate inward, to focus on the visceral isolations within Chianti Classico. This third such essay published since that September trip means there may be five or more to come in advance of the coming Anteprima and Chianti Classico Collection 2020 taking place in Firenze two weeks from today. Panzano’s story writes itself because the thread of sangiovese consistency has few if any cleaved rivals in the greater territory. Panzano’s wines stand apart with their attention to textured detail, in their ability to shine even in their youth and finally, their acumen to intuit a very straightforward and knowable set of structural values. These are sangiovese of great upbringing, etiquette and most importantly possessive of a great respect for their origins. Panzano is spoken for with great clarity by these producers and their wines.

The Cecchini experience ~ Grazie Dario, Panzano and Chianti Classico #chianticlassico #chianticlassicobootcamp

Related – Looking out for San Donato in Poggio

The following are 34 Panzano sangiovese tasted at Le Fonti, Il Molino di Grace, Fontodi and then followed by dinner at Cecchini. Many are wines I had previously tasted and some of the notes have been updated to reflect new observations. If you ever find yourself in Chianti Classico, I would imagine you’ll not be immune to feeling Panzano’s pull.

Ca’ Di Pesa Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Ca’ di Pesa is 95 per cent sangiovese, raised in second passage barriques (80 per cent) and 20 per cent grandi botti, on average. Dark and rich, black cherry ambitious and really, really modern. A high quality vintage and goes for it, no holds barred. Lots of wood. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted September 2019

Ca’ Di Pesa Chianti Classico Riserva Barrone DOCG 2016

Riserva is 100 per cent fermented in amphora and then moved into barriques, much of it new. Again the ambition is clear. Vanilla, graphite and everything spice. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted September 2019

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2015 ($37.00)

Dario Faccin’s is 100 per cent sangiovese as it will always be going forward and with an amazing acidity of 6.4 (tA). Wow is this still so youthful, even just a touch reductive, from an alcoholic fermentation at a very low temperature. Very low. Oxygen is only introduced at that very low temperature, to preserve not only colour but also aromatics. So be patient because time is its and your friend. The palate is so broad and generous but this is not a barrel tasting. This is real life. Such structure should be illegal. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted September 2019

Because he’s Dario F-in Faccin, that’s why g-dammit! #carobbio #sangiovese #chianticlassico #panzano #galestro

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2014 ($62.00)

From a vintage that was made for the intensity and manic work of Dario Faccin. You need to investigate so very deep to desalinate and to feel the layers peel away before getting to the crux of Carrobio’s Panzano Galestro and Alberese. Magnificent and large, balanced and massive ’14 oh my. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted September 2019

Casaloste Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

The amalgamation of ripest, richly purposed fruit and high toned meatiness brings the great divide together between levels of the appellative period. This is what you want from a well-developed and purposed Riserva, in structure, out of passion and back into reality. Most excellent and rigorous work from Gionanni Battista d’Orsi out of Panzano. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted September 2019

I Canadesi and I Produttori di Panzano at Cecchini

Casaloste Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Don Vincenzo 2016

An equal representation of selections from vineyards east and west, harvested and fermented separately and then brought together. Once again there is ambition and heft but balance is brought on by ripe acidities and everything resisting going to the breaches of edges. Such a fine liqueur for Gran Selezione and one to age for decades. A captured snapshot of 2015 with great structure as a frame to the picture. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted September 2019

Tenuta Casenuove Chianti Classico DOCG 2015

The first vintage, 80 sangiovese with 15 merlot and 5 cabernet sauvignon. The sangiovese was raised in 25hL botti and the inernational grapes in tonneaux. Darker and deeper than the ’16 to come. Good acidity keeps it moving through the waves of vanilla and graphite. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico President Giovanni Manetti, Fontodi

Castello Dei Rampolla Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($44.95)

Rampola’s vineyards grace the top of the northern hillsides of Panzano’s Conca d’Oro valley beneath the village. These are some of the most storied slopes in all of Chianti Classico and the castle that bears the name is one of its most famous landmarks. The richest, most glycerin liqueur that sangiovese is capable of reaching is found in this 2016 but not without accompanying acidity and fine-grained structure. Here from one of the territory’s classic rebel child houses is a formidable Annata from a glorious vintage and the kind of bouquet meets boneset that dreams are made of to last decades. It’s really quite something. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted March 2019

Fattoria La Quercia Il Chellino Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

From a more northerly vineyard with later ripening and the cool savour is readily apparent. Very expressive, chalky tannic and not yet resolved. Will turn and fire into a terrific expression of Panzano albeit in a highly singular, off the noted grid sort of way. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted September 2019

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Vigna Del Sorbo 2016 ($97.95)

Vigna del Sorbo sits in the Conca d’Oro at the southeastern end of the vineyards in clay soils dominated by Galestro and away from the Alberese of the Flaccianello sites. It’s always a refreshing meeting meaty wine but then along comes 2016. The satiating and pleasing factor is there from the start, not wanting for wondering if indeed the possibilities are there. They are in waves with bigger bones, more flesh hanging on though teasing to fall off at the slightest touch of the hand. They will not because structure keeps the meat secure even though it is so bloody tender. With acidity nearing eight on the tA scale there is every reason to believe 2016 Vigna del Sorbo will go 25 years easy, with or without the shedding on tears. Drink 2021-2039. Tasted September 2019

Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Vigna Del Sorbo 2010

Tasted from magnum at Cecchini with fruit wholly, ostensibly intact from a warm and grip-inciting vintage when these Vigna del Sorbo vines would have been in the 35-40 year-old range. Also from a transitional period in the climate change pantheon so therefore a time when climate was more unusual and not yet the new norm. A fruit bomb this sangiovese, juicy and bursting from a blue to black fruit year. Almost Cassis in orientation, cool truth spoken and acidity in the premium value category that lifts the wine with ease. Sip it with grilled beef and the picture is complete. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2019

Standing on the shoulders of giants #flaccianello #fontodi #sangiovese

Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve 2016, IGT Toscana Centrale ($147.95)

“For me this is a Chianti Classico. I’m waiting for others to cross the river together,” says Giovanni Manetti. It tastes of Chianti Classico, albeit with an ulterior profile to Vigna del Sorbo. There is a variegation of Galestro in the soil, along with Alberese, Calcium Carbonate and Pietraforte. The vineyards come down from Panzano and face an opposite direction. Flaccianello is strong and structured, meaty, floral, a compound composition of elements, minerals and the flesh of animale. It’s a big boned boy with acids and structure as a full throttle experience. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Solosangiovese DOCG 2017 ($24.95)

Drawn from Botti now at 18 months and the new plan is to extend that even further so 30 months after harvest will become 33-36 when the bulk of the wine goes to bottle. If anything is going to teach the world about the aging needs and worthiness of Panzano sangiovese and Chianti Classico, well the gentle suggestion and confident persuasion starts right here. Dusty and conversely soft, then grippy and elegant too. Drink 2021-2027.  Last tasted September 2019

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Solosangiovese DOCG 2016 ($24.95)

Very little has changed in fact ’16 has moved almost nowhere in the best possible way. Sneaky structure is there, in movements of Bach tones and the usual sangiovese brilliance, especially from these multifarious soils. Galestro, Alberese, Pietraforte, calcium carbonate. All in. Last tasted September 2019

”I think it’s a very good vintage,” announces Iacopo Morganti and that is all you really need to know, though take the time to glide along and feel the in synch moving parts. This is essential and partisan to gain an understanding ingrained of deepest knowing. There is something about this house style, this estate gathering and this layering of no-proviso, 100 per cent sangiovese. It walks you down all the way to Rimocine, down to the bottom of the Grace vinyards, looking up at San Francesco and the vines all around. This transports you to a place. Isn’t that what you want? That and great fruit, acids and fine tannin. Southeast Panzano sangiovese incarnate. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2019

Tasting through @ilmolinodigrace ~ The dramatic ’16s and super surprising ’17s. One breath of Gratius and see how it has separated from the pack. These are Panzano of sneaky grip and structure.

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($29.95)

Wow ’17 Riserva could handle waiting until 2021 to be released. So grippy, such acidity, so much concentration and while quality is exceptional still the vintage quantities are so low. A number in and around 40 per cent of normal. Wooly tannins, so in control and very fine. Remember there was also a frost in May that decimated the vines, followed by three months of intense heat. Vineyard management and the most pragmatic, accepting and realistic team in place made sure to do everything right. “Corretta” to the nth degree. As is this organic and biodynamic Riserva. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted September 2019

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 ($29.95)

Incredible depth and richness in Riserva out of ’16, with layers of variegated red fruit not seen in these parts or this appellative wine in quite some time. The linger and the effect is all encompassing and timeless. There will be very little movement in the next three years and perhaps longer. This came to know the who, what and why from the genesis.  Last tasted September 2019

Welcome to the new world Il Molino di Grace order. Here along, after and in addition to the Annata that changes everything is a crunchy and chewy Riserva of pure, laser focus. An extension of Annata with deeper fruit and confidently brighter than most Riserva. The selection is not merely impressive, it’s necessary. The opening farewell is just the beginning of the end. The fruit sits way up on high, on a hill where acidity and tannin live intertwined, transparent and monumental. Sangiovese on its own in Riserva might need help, a little bit of support to elevate and celebrate a little bit of everything. Not this IMG. Solo suffices with ease. It’s already got a little bit of everything. Marks the first of more steps to come for an estate ready to climb into a highest Chianti Classico echelon where it wants, needs and deserves to be. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2006

Poured from magnum at Cecchini in Panzano. It had been nearly five years since last tasted and the large format has suspended time. Still a matter of all constituent parts lifted, elevated and residing where things are haughty and high. Nigh time to drink up certainly but there is a freshness and an accumulated presence of acidity that speaks of the southeast Panzano site. If land could talk it would utter these sangiovese words. If vineyards could sing these would be the notes.  Last tasted September 2019

An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti Classico you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go.  Tasted November 2014

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Margone 2017

No change in ’17 “but of course we made less.” Only 15,000 will come of it and don’t expect to see this hit the market for at least two more years. Don’t expect to drink it for three to five beyond that. The concentration multiplied by the concentration multiplied by the barriques makes for an eight digit factor. Yes this is very different than the others and the acidity too but its a magnificent specimen. Massive tannic attack. Just massive. Wait for the elegance to emerge in 2030. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted September 2019

Il Molino Di Grace Gratius 2017, IGT Toscana

Gratius expresses the vineyard in ways the Annata, Riserva and Gran Selezione appellative sangiovese do not. This 100 per cent sangiovese reeks of the vineyard; fennel. rosemary and gariga. From the part of the vineyard at the peak of the hill where San Francesco’s hulking sculpture towers and watches over the sangiovese. Grip, intensity, signs, wealth of fruit, knowledge and portents. So fine. Drink 2025-2038. Last tasted September 2019

Only sangiovese as is the plan for the entire estate. That Panzano perfume and glycerin though there is some more weight and bones than others. Reminds of the style that’s constant from Fontodi to be honest. These are some of Chianti Classico’s finest acids, sweet and refined, They compliment and support. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted September 2019

Pomegranates of Panzano

Il Palagio Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015

Le Bambole is the place, the first selection of one piece of land, to have a Chianti Classico that expresses Il Palagio within the territory but more so within Panzano. Richer than some but balanced and sumptuous, big again but you wouldn’t really know it. Definite connection to Annata 2016 even if the vintage is different. And it needs time. No shocker there. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2019

Il Palagio Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2013

Particular, personal, vintage related, so Panzano. So consistent with the wines to come.  Last tasted September 2019

This services one of the more interesting aromatic entries thus far, not quite exotic but certainly different. It’s partly reduction, genesis and youth but also a certain soil plus some new barrel. Perhaps the most tannic wine tasted all day, this is way, way too young to gain any sense early of. The structural steel and petrified wood components are massive and untouchable, immovable and indestructible. There is great fruit lurking there and that soil, “under the soil, the soil, the soil, yes, deep in the soil.” So wait at least three years before supper’s ready.  Drink 2021-2029. Tasted February 2017

Le Cinciole Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 (207795, $19.95)

A floral, bright as a clear blue sky day sangiovese, 100 per cent as such and meaningful. There can be no better compliment that a Chianti Classico can pay then this. It tells you it is happy to see the warmth in your smile and the contentment in your face. That’s because it has charmed you and helped you through. It’s really that simple. Wonderful vintage and the best in modern times for Le Cinciole. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2019

The Conca d’Oro below the village of Panzano

Le Cinciole Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Aluigi 2014

A rich and luxurious ’14 from a vintage out of which austerity might be expected. Instead there is sapidity and structure, glycerin and silken textures. Really good work, surprising or not from Le Cinciole. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($31.95)

Officially still a tank sample but it is a finished wine, just awaiting DOCG approval. Very firm and juicy, replete with the classic Le Fonti aromatic profile, of salumi, fennel, herbs and salty savour. Fruit, acidity, structure all there in fineness and Panzano culpability. Needs a year to come together, at least, for sure. Essentially 90 per cent sangiovese give or take a point or two with merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February and September 2019

The vineyards of Le Fonti

Le Fonti Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015 ($44.95)

Two years in the barrel (400 and 500L, one is Hungarian Kader), again approximately 90 per cent sangiovese and the new wood in ’15 was in the 20 per cent range. Here comes that Le Fonti aromatic profile again, as distinct as any sangiovese you will ever nose. Would like to think they could be picked out of a line-up anywhere. Savoury, salty, cured, elegant and pure pleasure available. The quietest 15 per cent alcohol anywhere and from the coolest part of Panzano, to the east. Drink 2021-2028. Tasted February and September 2019

The vineyard was hit hard by the frost and so only 24,000 bottles were produced, as opposed to the normal number at 55. There’s great freshness especially for ’17. That said the heat stress was not an issue because the right rootstock, the organics and the it factor gave away what was wanted and what was needed. Bright, effusive, even if 2017 offers just a bit less of the place than usual. It’s ultimately elegant and balanced. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2019

Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Of 90 per cent sangiovese with 10 per cent cabernet sauvignon. From 8.2 hectares in the Conca d’Oro. 35,000 bottles produced, maximum to 40 in the next few years. Organic since the beginning, in the 90s. Same beauty on display as noted back in February 2019.  Last tasted September 2019

One step closer to a deep, deep understanding is where Marinai has arrived with this welling, oozing and fully rendered Greve sangiovese. There’s some true depth and fullness to this fruit and this constitution, not to mention architecture. Certainly filled with warmth and spice for the lovers here. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Once again the same 90 sangiovese with 10 per cent cabernet sauvignon mix, an extra six months in bottle with some barriques. More of the same, an extension from the Annata and with great consistency. Two peas in a pod. In Riserva the notation is a big wine, of big oak and with big plans that will take quite some time to unfold. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Tenuta Di Vignole Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($23.95)

Bought in 1970 and 11.5 hectares planted, jut over half of the estate. A warm, rich and heady sangioivese with 15 per cent merlot. Liquid chalky from French oak on the merlot and very textured. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Cecchini

Tenuta Di Vignole Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Campicaia 2015 ($44.95)

Sangiovese blended with cabernet sauvignon in a Cassis, resiny and sappy Riserva. Plenty of ripeness, richness and ambition. A modernity not always witnessed. Could be Napa cab and a good one at that. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Vallone Di Cecione Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Sangiovese with 10 per cent canaiolo, eight months élevage. A slight wet wool note though just slight and blended delightfully into the glycerin fruit and high reaching acidity. Just what Annata from Panzano needs to express, light, bright and naturally curated. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

A completely new floral approach to Annata, of flowers and herbs specific to the place though not necessarily a stretch to imagine the aromas like Balinese or Vietnamese exoticism.  Last tasted September 2019

Vecchie Terre Di Montefili Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Talk about exotics. The aromatics are all perfume and spice; cinnamon, clove, liquorice, star anise and Szechuan pepper. It’s a veritable Pho broth in Greve in Chianti, sangiovese clothing. The barrel is an obvious influence but the fruit remains lightning quick and culpable for place. I find it a bit thin and lean for 2016 so it’s a bit of a disparate accumulation. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Rock of Panzano

Vecchie Terre Di Montefili Chianti Classico Grand Selezione DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015

A vineyard planted in 1982 and a matter of big barrel élevage. Lovely savoury and brushy perfume again, hyperbolized and extended to extenuating GS style. Lovely texture and mouthfeel. This is the way of connectivity to the land and the place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Good to go!

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Looking out for San Donato in Poggio

Castello delle Paneretta portal to San Donato in Poggio

These days of writing feature articles about a place within a commune inside a territory tells and potentially schools us about something highly profound. Riddles, mysteries and enigmas are now yielding to solutions, comprehension and understanding. The special nooks in Chianti Classico are tenderly referred to as frazioni, geographically defined pockets where vineyards and villages align for organized, like-minded production and same-belief system marketing. San Donato in Poggio is one such frazione, a hilltop village, hamlet and fraction united by the make-up of both constituents and terroir.

Barberino Tavarnelle from Isole e Olena

San Donato is found inside Barberino Tavarnelle, a new commune established on January 1, 2019 (reducing the total in Chianti Classico from nine to eight) by merging the municipalities of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. The joining of Barberino Tavarnelle is one of fourteen mergers of municipalities in Tuscany approved in recent years. On May 26, 2019 the citizens of Barberino Tavarnelle were called for the first time to the polls for the 2019 municipal elections. Mayor David Baroncelli was elected.

Paolo de Marchi in the Galestro of Isole e Olena

Going back in time the near-northerly and fully-westerly section of Chianti Classico saw Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa as border cousins sharing one particular mitigating and characterizing commonality; a ridge running from the southeast to the northwest affectionately housing the vineyards and paeselli of the people of San Donato in Poggio. SDP may not be household named to all but it’s surely the most prominent and prestigious of the angling, corrugated crests running through the entirety of the greater territory. 

Castello di Monsanto, Barberino Val d’Elsa

The Evolution of Chianti Classico

What was controversial only three or fours years ago is now part of everyday, commonplace discussion. While the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico has yet to take an official stance on frazioni, especially with regards to labelling or menzione geografica, the fact is they are open-minded and even encouraging towards promoting the associations in search of marketing for their collective soul. Several years ago it was Roberto Stucchi of (Gaiole’s) Badia a Coltibuono who spoke about the “The Evolution of Chianti Classico.” Stucchi wrote “this zone is too large and diverse to remain locked in the current DOCG regulations, which make no distinction between the extremely diverse expressions of Sangiovese in its original territory. The first natural level of evolution above the simple “Chianti Classico” appellation would be naming the commune [township] of origin of the grapes for wines that truly represent their territory. The next step would be to define the village appellations, the smaller zones that are distinctive and that would clearly define some of the top wines in the appellation. So we could have Panzano, Monti, Lamole, as possible zones as well as the many others that have a common geography and history. This type of classification wouldn’t eclipse the current definitions of Classico, Riserva, Gran Selezione.”

Without being able to categorize by geological commonality the defining of sub-zones is always somewhat arbitrary, conceived of subjective opinion and potentially discriminatory to fringe participants, either for reasons of location or ideology. Borders can’t be drawn underground and to try do so above is nearly impossible. The only way is seemingly by commune but in the case of San Donato in Poggio, the namesake village situated upon its prominent ridge allows for its constituents to double down on the prospect.

A great big hug

The San Donato in Poggio room is tied together by climate in a well-bounded area affected by the mistral wind coming off of the Tyrrhenian Sea wafting in from the northwest natural corridor of Monte Serra between Pisa and Lucca. Winters are warmer than the Chianti Classico interior average while summers are cooler and windier. Bud break comes early, seasons are stretched longer and later hang-time allows for top quality phenolics. While finesse and elegance are the two go-to descriptors, those of glycerin and high-toned grip should also be considered. San Donato’s are some of Chianti Classico’s sneakiest tannins, shrouded in the beauty of these wines in their youth. Potential and possibility for great longevity is a hallmark trait of SDP’s sangiovese. If you are looking for comfort or a hug in Chianti Classico, you’ve come to the right place.

The Galestro of Isole e Olena, Barberino Tavarnelle

Rocks in common

San Donato in Poggio’s lifted ridge is typical of the Ligurian sea’s platform push but here the cause and effect is two-fold. Flysch (an alternating sequence of sedimentary limestones, sandstones, and shales, the beds of which are thin, regular, and alternating) is this frazione‘s ace up the sleeve. That and the Galestro (schisty clay with friable white, grey, blue and charcoal rocks) typical of the greater territory are the soils with which all of these producers have in their vineyards to some varying degree. It may be argued that no other commune, village or valley shares such distinctly common terroir. Some compact limestone (like Alberese) exists as well but in some cases it is the Galestro clay and rock known as the Iolithium Unit that is found in large, hard and ghostly white Colombini that separates San Donato from the rest of the territory. Of great interest is to see how the sliding of the two platforms caused on the contact surface and the composition of blue clays prevents water loss in the deep layers. This creates natural availability of water, essential during drought vintages. Now you know where to look for 2017 Chianti Classico.

Natascia Rossini, Podere La Cappella

Associazione Viticoltori di San Donato in Poggio

The association of thirteen producers began their collective journey on January 24, 2018. Their total land holdings add up to just under 2000 hectares, 20 per cent of which are planted to vineyards.  “A time of change and exchanging ideas,” explains association secretary and Podere La Cappella’s Natascia Rossini. “Here there is a longer growing season and we tend to harvest late” and yet two years ago just a couple degrees cooler in temperatures meant that the frazione avoided damaging frost, with help from the winds blowing in 60-70 kms away from the coast. While it is difficult to find a commonality within a sub-zone, you can agree that the climate here is consistent throughout.

Passione per le nostre terre ed i suoi frutti, un territorio ed una cultura unici al mondo, un tesoro comune: il vino.
Siamo un gruppo di viticoltori, di un piccolo ma prodigioso territorio del Chianti Classico raccolto tra i comuni di Tavarnelle Val di Pesa e Barberino Val d’Elsa, che vogliono tutelare (o custodire) e far conoscerne la loro secolare tradizione agricola, storica e culturale evidenziandone le eccellenze vitivinicole, nonché le caratteristiche che le contraddistinguono sottolineando l’importanza degli aspetti climatici e geologici.

The manifesto translates as such. “Passion for our lands and its fruits, a unique territory and culture in the world, a common treasure: wine. We are a group of winemakers, from a small but prodigious Chianti Classico area gathered between the municipalities of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Barberino Val d’Elsa, who want to protect (or preserve) and make their secular agricultural, historical and cultural tradition known highlighting their wine excellence, as well as the characteristics that distinguish them, emphasizing the importance of climatic and geological aspects.”

Paolo de Marchi

The thirteen members currently ensconced in the all for one directive are Badia a Passignano, Casa Emma, Casa Sola, Castello delle Paneretta, Castello di Monsanto, Fattoria La Ripa, Fattoria Montecchio, Fattoria Quercia al Poggio, Fattoria Spadaio e Piecorto, Isole e Olena, Le Filigare, Podere La Cappella and Poggio al Sole. The following are 21 examples from the association’s 13 members (plus three likely soon to join) tasted in September 2019 with Alberto Albisetti at Castello delle Paneretta and with Paolo de Marchi at Isole e Olena.

Antinori Badia A Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016 (384552, $49.95)

Presented by Stefano Carpaneto. From Barberino Tavarnelle and well entrenched in the association of vintners in San Donato in Poggio. Surprisingly high toned but also immensely structured in a 100 per cent sangiovese Gran Selezione. You can really feel both the calcari inlaid and braided through the Galestro clay by a richness albeit under the influence of the highest tone. Gains flesh, bone and energy as it goes. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted September 2019

Casa Emma Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 (56952)

From Paolo Paffi off of 25 hectares at 450m in production of 95,000 bottles. San Donato sangiovese with five per cent each canaiolo and malvasia nera, 70 per cent raised in tonneaux and 30 in Inox tank. What’s good for goose is great for sangiovese and so 60 are employed in the vineyard, helping to release the compaction in the clayey Galestro soil. Classic in every expected respect, in the specific savour, motivating intensity, high tonality, deeply good and plenty cherry fruit. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Casa Sola Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

A 120 hectare property owned and operated by a Genovese family, third generation now. The Gambaro Family has been in Barberino Tavarnelle since 1960; Giuseppe, Claudia and their children, Matteo and Anna. Some canaiolo, cabernet sauvignon and colorino augment the sangiovese, for one year in barrel. A sapid and savoury sangiovese snack of red fruit deepening to dark and sullen. Deep toned wine. Really deep. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Castello Della Paneretta Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($24.00)

Presented by Alberto Albisetti, owner of the Castello della Paneretta. A mix of fruits fresh and dried mark the basket of this San Donato sangiovese, with 10 per cent canaiolo and (five) colorino off of 23 hectares of vines. Dry and duty, red ropey, some liquorice and a real estate cuvée blended from vines across the estate. True blue stylistic from large 5000L French barrels. Old school in some ways, classic, like old Rioja. Perfect for the style. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 

Showing in the only way Castello di Monsanto can, with forest scents, of cypress and all the brush you can shake into the fine liquid of a sangiovese off of these San Donato hills. Mainly Galestro schisty soils bringing the essential balance, along with some volcanic tufo. It all adds up to a posit tug between freshness and structure. Experience tells us that the possibility exists for 2016 to go long like 1968. Perhaps.  Last tasted September 2019

Annata of 90 per cent sangiovese with both canaiolo and colorino, traditional, loyal and streaked by the Galestro qualified off this ridge extended out of San Donato in Poggio. Juicy, fresh and forward, expressive of the vintage, not so muscular. Sangiovese like going home and crawling into the bed you slept in as a child. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted September 2018

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Il Poggio 2013 ($85.00)

Il Poggio from the San Donato in Poggio Galestro and Flysch has barely even climbed the hill of its first stage. Not even sure it has left the stable and surely has no current aspirations of making it to the fortress. The seventh year should show the first signs of initial ascent and transitions into secondary life. Formidable structure and presence are in surround of fruit from one of Chianti Classico’s most distinguished cru.  Last tasted September 2019

The cooler, cloudy vintage has been taking its time to emerge and 2018 is now live, in the present and in the flesh, ready for its time. This is confirmed by the grand artist known as Riserva from perhaps the most iconic hill in all of Chianti Classico. Still bright, effusive and not fully ready to let its tannin melt away. The sangiovese component is in the 90-95 per cent range, again with canaiolo and colorino coming around to complete the whole. The tension persists and the tannic structure in this “Selezione” is much tighter than the Annata or the first, non terroir specified Riserva. Still hard to believe how grippy this is. A soon to come epiphany with the 1968 helps to explain Il Poggio’s phenomenon. As a racer Monsanto’s Riserva 2013 is Marco Pantani, greatest climber of a generation, with so much grandiosity, potential and possibility, straight to the top of Il Poggio. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted September 2018

Fattoria Le Masse Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Though not in the association Le Masse is unequivocally a San Donato in Poggio institution, under the auspices of brother and sister Robin and Lea Mugnaini, owners and winemakers. Theirs out of Barberino in Val d’Elsa vineyards is a child of natural fermentation, has been organic 10 years and two as biodynamic. No sulphur, no pumps, all manual, a mano. This 2016 is the last year of barrel use, of those in their fourth year. The solo/varietal Annata is 100 per cent sangiovese of high energy, intensity and impressively developed structure, linear and so driven. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Fattoria La Ripa Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by winemaker Nicholas Caramelli, La Ripa farms 12 hectares in Chianti Classico divided into two valleys, one marked by Alberese, the other alluvial deposits. Ten clones of sangiovese adding up to 90 per cent of the Annata, with other native varieties. Quite high-toned and graced by liquorice inflected red fruit, a touch leathery and dry. Only stays in tonneaux for six months. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

Fattoria Montecchio Chianti Classico DOCG ‘Primum Line’ 2016

Presented by Riccardo Nuti, of 95 per cent sangiovese with alicante in big (33hL) barrels for aging. The vineyard source happens to be the most recently planted, with a combination of Galestro and Flysch (rhythmic alternations of sandstone and fine-grained layers that contain siltstones, silty shales, and clayey shales) to the south of San Donato.  Last tasted September 2019

Quite reductive and wound with a tightness that moves the adage one step up the rung, the one that says sangiovese needs time. For ’16 it’s a matter more pressing and a story yet to be told. It’s tart but so very layered and there’s a feeling of Galestro here, with a darker chalky texture and mouthfeel. Perhaps not the same weight as 2015 but more power and structure by a mile. It’s about preference of style and vintage variation. You may have to drink 15s while this waits two or three years before seeing the glory unfold. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Il Poggiolino Chianti Classico DOCG Il Classico 2016

Alberto Fabbri is also not yet a member of the San Donato in Poggio association and his work from vineyards in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa is exquisite. A combination of reduction and cured meat, pancetta, from Galestro soils at 300m with five per cent canaiolo. Even finer touch from the most excellent 2016. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($34.95, 704346)

Was finally bottled in July, to be released in February. “I like 2016, it’s a very different vintage.” As usual there is 15 per cent canaiolo mixed in. Why Canaiolo? “Because it’s from here. And it’s a late ripening variety like sangiovese, and also not heavy and jammy like merlot.” Canaiolo is like sangiovese in that it must be selected and used in very particular ways. Paolo’s is actually a darker depth of fruit from 2016 while the spice is so much more sophisticated. There is so much wisdom now, more than even before and a calm, settling depth about this wine.  Last tasted November 2018, February and September 2019

Chianti Classico 2016 is composed of 80 per cent sangiovese, (15) canaiolo and (5) syrah, which since the 1980s has always held a spot, in fact it may have been as much as 10 two plus decades ago. Paolo de Marchi explains.”Syrah in my opinion, was really about thinking, about blending in an earlier ripening variety.” It also added colour, not for quality necessarily, but for pleasure. “If I were a consultant I don’t think I would recommend to plant it anymore.” But Paolo loves it, its bright acidity and lower pH, and loves the warmth. You can feel the liquid peppery hug from the combination of canaiolo and syrah in the constitution of this CC and now a new texture evolved from a traditional one, clearly passed on through generations. It is spoken in the clarity of this 2016, but it has taken decades to arrive here. Finessed, soft tannins and an effulgent acidity wrap fruit chewy and yet very crisp. Singular again and alone but quicker to please, at least for now. Perhaps it too will shut down in 2019. Perhaps not.  Drink 2019-2028. Tasted February 2018

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2013 (704346)

Poured from magnum. Should we expect an Isole e Olena ’13 to be the least unusual in the appellation? Yes. While higher in acid and lift it’s more a representation of the land and the soils, but also the style. In a way a classic vintage because grapes hung into October. Quite youthful, an uprising of energy, a pump up, not over. Quite seamless and full of Paolo de Marchi pride. Spice and strength, fortitude and extension.  Last tasted September 2019

Quite the syrupy aromatic liqueur fills the glass for the ripe and nearly floral brooding Chianti Classico from I e O out of the gregarious 2013 vintage. The stylistic makes me think Riserva but that just says so much about the quality and layering of the fruit. More than ample tart and variegated acidity up the equanimity and longevity factor so the house’s ability with Chianti Classico of less time in barrel is once again confirmed. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2017

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2010 (704346)

Poured from magnum. A beautiful vintage, certainly apposite to the challenge of wet, stretched then long 2013. A vintage with fine tannins that developed early enough and without much compromise to elongated structure. A top notch sangiovese vintage from which a great Cepparello was extracted. Wow factor winding and circling, dramatic and savoury with all the bushes and herbs magnified as they will be. Magnum perhaps but if nine years has only beget this, well then surely nine plus nine more will soothsay forward towards the secondary and tertiary numbers. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Le Filigare Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Alessandro Cassetti Burchi, proprietor of the smallest producer in the San Donato in Poggio association. Vineyards at 450m and from a winemaker who strikes an uncanny resemblance to American rock legend Tom Petty. With five per cent each colorino and canaiolo raised only in old barriques. Quite rich and savoury, of maritime pine, comfortable, old school, long developed with help from extended, even late harvests. So charming. This sangiovese belongs amongst the wildflowers, by a house in the woods, where “I ain’t got a neighbour for nine or ten miles, back in the tall pines.” Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2019

Ormanni Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Ivan Batignani, from the family with a presence in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Immensely and incredibly rich in acidity and tannins over some pretty solid and heady fruit. Big Slavonian oak. Big aging, big vessels, big wine, all in balance. A 100 per cent sangiovese that still needs time.  Last tasted September 2019

The combination of Poggibonsi and Barberino val d’Elsa is Ormanni’s trump card, a straddling of commune borders that creates the ideal estate Annata in perfect alignment. It’s really layered and sumptuous, old school at heart but clear, pure and honest, always looking straight ahead. There’s no rusticity but there is this red fruit beauty that reminds of days of yore. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Ormanni Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Etichetta Storica Dugentanni 2013

Dugentanni, as in two hundred years, a reference to contiguous ownership by the Brini Batacchi family. The oldest vineyards in western Barberino Val d’Elsa supply the fruit for Ormanni’s top level sangiovese and one held back with traditional territory patience before its release to market. More loyal to the past then many, with a crisp clarity and the kind of Gran Selezione that wafts with nonno’s pipe tobacco flavour. Tells a story of tradition with unclouded vision and empathy for both family and place. Really smart Classico and ready to be enjoyed. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Michaela Rossi. Located on the hill in front of Paneretta, of 100 hectares with only 15 planted. Maximum altitude is 300m with 360 degrees of exposition. Organic practices since ’97 and officially certified since 2009. Clay and Galestro terroir with sangiovese, ciliegiolo, canaiolo, malvasia nera and colorino. This Annata is 80 sangiovese with the rest in 20 parts. One year in concrete after spending a year in wood. Terrific energy and balance, a wildly vibrant and driven Annata with great presence and intuition. Structure too. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2013

From Vittorio and Michaela Rossi and their best fruit from an amphitheatre of a hillside vineyard as rich in clay of any found in San Donato is Poggio. Pockets of Galestro and limestone take on some responsibility for the grip ins and structural outs of this glycerin beauty of a sangiovese but rich fruit is the catalyst and the star. That said there is a sculpted or architectural notation mixed with the excellence that this frazione in this commune (Barberino Tavarnelle) is able to provide and prove from a vintage of mixed feelings. The feelings are obvious from 2013 and for Quercia al Poggio, of sumptuousness and delight. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2019

Podere La Cappella Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($28.95)

Always something completely other. From vines six to seven years old. A blend of sangiovese (90) and 10 merlot. The elixir that the others in San Donato are not, a gentle syrup, a sweetly endowed savour and a texture silky fine.  Last tasted September 2019

Only San Donato in Poggio delves into this kind of specific calcaire, the Colombino in lieu of most other’s Galestro. The coolest of notes are broken down and fragmented in mimic of the soil and run like a river of savoury stone through stratified fruit. There is a perception of sweetness, imagined as perfectly ripe, low-lying fruit in early summer. But the sweetness is just a dream because with such a level of mineral, not salty but sapid, it is impression that supersedes expression. The young vines are growing up before our noses and eyes, lending impeccable balance in the here and now, with appreciable development laid out ahead. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2018

Poggio Al Sole Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Project Manager Valentino Davaz. “Hill at the sun,” and the most northerly winery in the association of San Donato in Poggio, near to the abbey of Badia a Passignano. Organic and at good elevation, at 420m with five per cent each canaiolo and also merlot, in one quarter barriques for one year. One of the more wooded wines in the lot, lush, rich and silky smooth. Needs time to submit and gently glide into that sunset over the hill. Drink 2020–2024.  Tasted September 2019

Tenuta Bonomonte Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Sonia Gianni. Bonomonte is situated in front of the Paneretta hill in Barberino and their Annata’s sangiovese is blended with five per pent each canaiolo and colorino. A production that has been in play since 1982, the 2016 goes for the entirety of the vintage, a bit pressed with some overripe fruit and drying tannins. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Good to go!

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Castello delle Paneretta portal to San Donato in Poggio

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Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

1964

Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre, wrote Clément Marot, Renaissance poet. Everything comes at its appointed time. From Cahors to Turin. War, peace, hate, love, fruit, acid and tannin. Wine is all about the pauses and the balances. At its core the value is in that feeling of things being natural and equal. That’s the way it should be. When you drink you enjoy what you have, without competition. One sensation after another. You feel like you have more, even if you have less. Like consomée with just a chop of vegetables.

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most conspicuous, head-turning and psychotropic moments, better known as his 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019. Godello first initiated the concept for a year-end culminating evaluation in 2012 though did not actually coin the phrase until publishing his 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Call it the sixth or the eighth but who really cares because the wines are the crux and the heart of the matter.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

Hard to know how many wines he actually tasted in 2019 but the best guesstimate would be 2,500 because that is how many reviews have been posted to WineAlign in this calendar year. A couple hundred were for wines tasted in 2018 but the editing and posting of at least that many for wines tasted in 2019 have yet to become permanent. So the number is pretty close, one way or another.

There were at least a few dozen stellar and jaw-dropping wines that should of, could of, would of made this list. For every one chosen another was left behind for no reason other than necessity and its relationship to the mother of invention. These images exhibited are but a few that had every reason to be one of 19’s 19.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

With thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, please be encouraged and read on. Godello’s 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019.

AB Wines Opçāo Avesso “A” Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal

From winemaker/oenologist António Sousa’s personal label (with partner Bernardo) and a vineyard planted in 2003, in Amarante. These are avesso grapes just a few years away from what António considers the optimum age, when they reach 18 years, 10 years older than the age from which they begin to deliver excellence. This A is in position A, from a perfect vantage point out of a very good vintage. This is the role model and exemplar for avesso, from a project that began in 2016, with all the adjunct components in line; lemon, lime, orange, ripe acidity, juicy nature and just a minor creamy, fleshy and boozy happiness. Great balance. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli, Italy

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Goisot Gulhem Et Jean Hugues Gondonne 2017, Bourgogne Côtes D’auxerre AOC, Bourgogne, France

A soil of kimmeridgian and marl, of white and blue, with great layering of fruit and that is in fact what you feel from Gondonne. There is something rich and overtly expressive here and while it’s anything but simple it could be imagined that so many consumers would understand this chardonnay, love it and want to drink it with abandon. That said the structure, goût de terroir and joie de vivre are just exceptional. The wood and the land just melt right in. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa

These Helderberg vines would have been 33 years of age at the time and to think the wine would have cost $10 or so. Now 12 years later we’re graced with this hyperbole of toast, smoulder, lit paraffin and the edge of saffron honey. It’s hard to believe and this the from the tier-two, non-selected grapes at the back of the line behind a Forrester wine like the FMC. Nothing less than incredible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019

Ornellaia Bianco 2016, IGT Toscana Bianco, Tuscany, Italy

The Bianco was first introduced in 2013, following fast forward to the original 1980s and 1990s work with Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. That project had been abandoned because says Axel Heinz “stylistically it just wasn’t right.” That wine was mainly sauvignon blanc on one of Ornellaia’s great vineyard sites. What was wanted was something more than a varietal wine and a new age of finding vineyard sites that were more than merely good for white wine. That means making use of northern slopes and those blocks favourable to whites, including the use of (indigenous) vermentino and viognier. The practice had already been proven with success by colleagues. Bianco is the alter ego to the Rosso, priced as such “and reflects the spirit of Ornellaia, but it had to build itself up to that premium level. We intend to make one of the great white wines of the world,” explains Heinz. That may sound like bragging swagger but the reality is that experience, acumen and especially confidence breed the truth. I Bianci are aged for 12-15 months in (30 per cent new) barriques before bottling. I do dare you to find a wine that smells anything like this Bianco. They are flowers unnamed or perhaps not yet discovered. The flinty reductiveness is also truly and wholly unique. Though the way sauvignon is raised and the place are surely not the same, the Bordeaux styling and sensibility of affinities are more than uncanny and even served by purpose. The vintage brings great maturity, fruitiness and salinity. Fruit presence under the spell of fleur de sel. Nothing but a brilliant combination. Says Heinz without equivocation, “it’s a benchmark for us, ’16 that is.” Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2019

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, AOC Bourgogne, France

The couverture is all encompassing acting as a full sheathing tapestry in surround of a fruit core of sheer concentration and yet as a whole so understated. It’s hard to imagine more coaxing and less pronouncement. Relatively speaking there’s no estate equal to what has happened here. Great mineral crash into life and love, into fruit and impossible acidity. A magnificent chardonnay with 25 years of life ahead. Drink 2021-2039.  Tasted September 2019

Adelsheim Pinot Noir Boulder Bluff 2015, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon

From a steep, southwest facing site and picked really early, especially in the warm 2015 vintage. Again the confluence of vineyard conflagration of more than one soil type leads to an estate stylistic but let’s face it one that is bent into shape by focus and precision. There is great generosity and freshness, again in spite of or despite the hot vintage. More floral from this bluff and bigger, albeit finer quality signature tannin from this neighbourhood, with more thanks to basaltic blocks. Long ageing surely ahead with fruit turning to bramble, at times. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso DOC Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2015, Sicily, Italy

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOC La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy

At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Maison Roche De Bellene Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Bourgogne, France

Do not adjust your set. The vintage brought everything to the table and while the foreground presents a picture crystalline and transparent the entirety of the frame is frozen clear. As for the aromatics this teases a meaty cure like few other and teases as if by the ambience of a cave, restricted of access, hiding what lurks, hangs and excites. Crunchy to say the least, layered to say more and complex to speak the ultimate truth. Magnifique and still twenty years away from the beginning of the end. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Domaine De La Pousse D’or Pommard Premier Cru Les Jarollières 1964, Appellation Pommard Controlée, Bourgogne, France

Calling this 55 year-old Bourgogne Premier Cru a piece of history is not enough to do justice because family, lineage and the passing of the generational torch beyond domaine lines are everything that matters. Nicolas Potel pulled this one out of thin air and not merely by a human ability to disappear and reappear. No, Nico chose the way of disapparating and then apparating (in the wizard sense of “apparition,” a magical form of teleportation). His father Gérard’s ’64 was in his hands and a great big, merde-eating grin was posted all across his face. Les Jarollières is a 1.44 ha plot of marl and calcaire and even today half of the plantings are those that were fitted in 1925 and 1962. It was Gérard Potel who resurrected Domaine de la Pousse d’Or to its glory and in 1964 he acquired the domaine through a marriage to the then owner’s niece. Along with Henri Boillot this cru has been famous being meaty, earthy and owning an ability for supernatural integration. This 1964 had taken all that, everything and more, left nothing in the vineyard and had now become the epitome of the ethereal. The fruit was fully intact, so bloody strawberry, still with lightning quick reflexes and able to pour fresh glasses of spirit and energy over the course of a full hour. The experience was a once in a lifetime type, a shared moment and the kind to create a banked memory that will always be generous when a good one is needed. Thank you Nico. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico DOCG 2000, Tuscany, Italy

At the time it was labeled as an (Annata) Chianti Classico though it was really Riserva. Yes it has evolved but 18-plus years should have moved it much further along. Carries a spice like the exoticism in resemblance to 2006 but this is something other. Still some very fine, present and notable acidity. Amazing purity, honesty, luck, circumstance, place and gentile personality. The sapidity is there again and the age ability nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Puro 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($150.00)

Il Puro takes her purity to another level in 2015 with fruit so silky fine and chalky tannins integrated into liquid even finer than that fine. The accumulation is just impressive and the charm meeting grace even more so than that. The Mascheroni-Stianti family has really found a stride in this GS to explain why it exists and how it can make many people happy. The structure here will take this through two or three decades of unfolding. There is a house record to prove it, ironically regardless and in spite of the bottle’s name. This is sangiovese. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010, Tuscany, Italy

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea Costanti is convinced this is a great vintage. “One of the best.” The weather was perfect following a beneficial cold winter. The harvest was early but not compromisingly so and it saw no hurdles, obstacles or intendments. The barrel use is bigger, older and wiser. This is the sort of concentrated Costanti that speaks to the 2019 philosophy, of acidity, ripeness and balance. Time on skins was about a month (including two weeks of fermentation and oxidation introducing délestage) and no protective sulphur. There is a control in this sangiovese, a powerful restraint but more than that, more so a calm, but not before storm. Finesse, grip and beauty, like a statue of a stag, in a courtyard, lit by moonlight. Tannins are all pervasive, fully stated, yet to feel a necessity for attack. They will and we will retreat, Then we will advance, with caution, further to find full pleasure for two decades. At the very minimum. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted February 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piemonte, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

1964

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WineAlign

Conceptual and aesthetic Brunello di Montalcino

Montalcino, 6pm

October 2019

Montalcino. Harmony and Unesco Heritage Centre of a surface area totalling 31,200 hectares, 3,660 of which are vineyards planted predominately to sangiovese. An accord of 2,100 to Brunello di Montalcino and 510 for Rosso di Montalcino, delineated and defined in consensus by the late 1990s, set into the Galestro, Arenaria and Calcare soils on hills and over valleys in surround of its medieval village. The merits of change, alteration or expansion have been debated, voted upon and ultimately dismissed every three years and so there has yet to pass any thought of increase or reconfiguration. Neither for Rosso nor for Brunello. What was learned on this particular October visit? For one thing the idea that patience, exactitude and static sobriety are assumed of a confident Montalcino. That and the new discourse concerning both a conceptual and an aesthetic Brunello di Montalcino.

Montalcino. Typically a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cold winters, 700 millimetres of annual precipitation and a moltitude of soils; alluvial fluvio-lacustrine, clay, clayey-marine, sandy-marine, limestone, sandstone, shale, siltstone, magmatic rock. Argille, Calcare, Sabioso, Galestro, Alberese, Macigno, Arenaria. In every permutation, inculcation and combination, though the understanding in Montalcino is perhaps more readily defined because the pockets of specific soils are large and often uniform. This means that diversity and complexity can be distilled into a deeper and knowable comprensione. The confidence of Montalcino.

Brunello 2019

I’m not a clairvoyant. If nothing out of the ordinary happened or presented itself I’d still see things the way everyone else does, or sees. In that sense I am the epitome of the boring writer. But I am a most fortunate writer because I travel a considerable amount and during a most recent visit to Montalcino extraordinary things were in fact presented to me. My game can’t help but to be elevated with the knowledge that a confident Montalcino is once again passing through a portal into a time of re-invention. In due course I will explain.

Road to Montalcino

Montalcino. Village at 564 metres above sea level and many vineyards reside at a similar altitude. Plots, blocks and Italy’s most famous village overlooking great swaths of rolling valleys; Asso, Orcia, Arbia, Ombrone. The first known wine label dates back to the 1800s and the DOC was recognized in 1966. Brunello was afforded DOCG status in 1980, Italy’s first, followed by Rosso as a DOC in 1984.

The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino was formed in 1967 as a coalition of 25 original members. There were 15 producers who signed the page on this accord kept at Bellaria Estate: Assunto Pieri, Ivo Buffi, Loffredo Gaetani Lovatelli, Giuseppe Cencioni, Bramante Martini, Pierluigi Fiovaranti, Silvano Lambardi, Annunziato Franci, Ferruccio Ferretti, Giovanni Colombini, Dr. Leopoldo Franceschi, Silvio Nardi, Gino Zannini, Lucia Perina and Elina Lisini. The other nine original members were Nello Baricci, Siro Pacenti, Milena Perina, Orazio Machetti, Dino Ciacci, Guglielmo Martini, Emilio Costanti, Sabatino Gorelli and Rev. don Leopoldo Bianchi.

Montalcino sunset

Brunello’s maximum yields are eight tonnes per hectare (approximately 52 hl/ha of wine) and the aging requirement is five years (six for Riserva), of which two must be in oak barrels, followed by four months in bottle. It may be introduced to market on January 1st of the 5th year after harvest (January 1st of the 6th year for Riserva). Rosso’s maximum yields are nine tonnes per hectare and it may be introduced to market on September 1st of the year after harvest. There are nine million bottles of Brunello and half that of Rosso produced on average each year. More than a quarter are certified organic and/or biodynamic and that is double as compared to just five years ago. Seventy per cent of the wines are exported. Current vintages on the market are 2014 for Brunello, 2017 for Rosso.

Related – Awash in Brunello di Montalcino

Most of the October visits were arranged and facilitated through the auspices and generosity of the Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino. President Fabrizio Bindocci, Vice-Presidents Giacomo Bartolommei, Stefano Cinelli Colombini and Riccardo Talenti. Director Giacomo Pondini and Consorzio facilitator Martina Iannotta. One month after returning from Italy the Consorzio paid us a visit here in Toronto for a gala event and 2015 vintage preview at Alfonso Iaccarino’s two Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890.

We traversed the roads and landscape in covering much of the parts that make up the whole of Montalcino. We being a group of four, two Canadians and two Americans; Christopher Sealy, graduate of French Language and Literature Degree from University of Toronto, Sommelier and Wine Director of Toronto’s Alo Restaurant Group. Cathrine Todd, a.k.a Dame Wine, New York, WSET Diploma graduate, Freelance Wine Writer, Forbes Contributor and the Wine Columnist for La VOCE di New York. Jeffrey Porter, Sommelier, Consultant, Educator, NYC-based beverage professional with over 18 years experience in retail and restaurants. Now starring in his video series creation, SipTrip Italy, an exploration of many of Italy’s best wineries and wine regions: the ultimate Italian wine adventure.

Related – Diversity in Brunello di Montalcino

Cathrine Todd, Godello, Jeff Porter and Christopher Sealy

Conceptual versus aesthetic function

Consider this phrase. “Discontinuity attains a level of aesthetic creation.” If we look at this through the lens of conceptual versus aesthetic truth and apply it to the Rosso and Brunello of Montalcino then we are on to something. Examples of both are what define the appellations in southern Tuscany. A tradition exists in which making wines is ensconced in rational truth but these last two decades have seen a wave of aestheticism rival, take over and even surpass that of rational winemaking behaviour. The wave of richness, ripeness and over-oaking the local sangiovese is not over and there still persists many pockets and factions of IGTism. To each his own and yet the pendulum has begun to swing with more producers coming back to basics. The neo-conceptualization of Montalcino sangiovese has returned a freshness to Brunello and the gleaning is real because a greater void has opened up for all to share. It’s a mathematical game of philosophical implication.

Part of a week’s pasta induced coma thanks to Montalcino. #gnocchialtartufo

“Continuous functions are of utmost importance in mathematics, functions and applications. However, not all functions are continuous. If a function is not continuous at a point in its domain, one says that it has a discontinuity there.” Sangiovese and even more so grape varieties like merlot and cabernet sauvignon grown in the Montalcino hills form a discrete set, a dense set, or even the entire domain of the territory’s function. They are examples of appellative discontinuities “in the simplest case of functions of a single real variable taking real values.” They are wines that represent the aesthetic function.

Let me count the ways. Comfort and classicism from Mario, Anna and Michele at Il Giglio, Montalcino

Sangiovese of purity, honesty, transparency and a sense of place are those that hold court for the conceptual truth of Montalcino. They are neither better or worse than their aesthetic brethren and sistren but they are making themselves open for discovery in 2019, 2020 and beyond. If you travel to the region at this time you will collide with them and their makers because they are crying to be heard. In October of 2019 I heard from both sides and their stories were expressed in understated forms of beauty, at times in the varietal austerity of the times and at others quite spiritual. In all cases we are taught that we are nothing and that we are all deserving of life. And to taste the wines from Montalcino. Wabi, if you will.

The visits

Le Ragnaie Winery was established in 2003 by the Campinoti Family. The estate follows the guidelines for organic agriculture and the vineyards are divided into three distinct parcels throughout Montalcino which allows the production of three diverse Brunello terroir. There is no usage of fertilizer but instead cover crops are planted of legumes, clovers and grasses.
 This helps to regenerate the land after a long summer season of work and aids in enriching the organic substance of the land all the while penetrating deeply the roots of the various planted species.
 The diversity of plants in the vineyard prevents superficial erosion and instead favours the absorption of water and creates an important habitat for many species of animals and insects.
 This process guarantees the formation of an ecosystem full of life which is essential to the health of the vines.

Le Ragnaie

Riccardo Campinoti at Le Ragnaie poured so many instructive sangiovese that work their conceptual way into his poignant, powerfully restrained and profound Rosso and Brunello. He also afforded a glimpse into two new aesthetic behavioural wines, the Vino Bianco and Fiano. Both are seven day skin-contact Montalcino whites, the first made from estate grown malvasia and trebbiano. They are fashioned like reds, with punch downs and very traditional styles in a Tuscan white vein. The Bianco is all orange skin and lemon arid as it gets but also gelid, surging, textured. The fiano is made for fun, tastes salty and acts so fine. So delicious and only 600 bottles made.

Mario Bollag

At Terralsole Mario Bollag and Athena Tergis Bollag reside on a hilltop peninsula plateau that is surely one of Montalcino’s most beautiful locations. They embrace aesthetic function like no others, in the food they cook, the music they play and the wide array of wines they make. Philanthropy, art, whimsy, generosity, warmth, sangiovese and the only cabernet franc in Montalcino.

Athena Tergis Bollag

Trio is a real “Super Tuscan” because it’s made from international varietals; cabernet franc, merlot and syrah. Takes 18 months in barrel and seven more years in bottle give or take, to be ready. Super fruit forward, super heady and super structured. Now integrated and singing smoothly, silken and fine. Coldoro, Solista and Pasticcio round out the symphony. Their first vintage for Brunello was 2000, 2001 for the Rosso.

Felix and Sabine Eichbauer

Podere Salicutti is in a south-eastern Montalcino location, on route SP 55 towards Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Now in the altruistic stewardship of owners Sabine and Felix Eichbauer who heed the tradition and ideology created by its previous owner, Francesco Leanza. The agriculture and winemaking team remain to keep the promise and the faith for all of the estate lands and and inner workings. They do so as custodians of three essential vineyards, Piaggione, Teatro and Sorgente. We should all look forward to what this power couple and team will bring to the community, wines and landscape of Montalcino.

Cortonesi and Cortonesi

Your next trip to Montalcino must include a stop at La Mannella to discover the conceptual present and future of the area. Tommaso Cortonesi is a young superstar full of spirit who knows and understands the beauty and enchantment of wine. Sangiovese that gives you the feeling of having come through a storm because of simple wines that make you happy with the present moment. Also complex wines of great functionality, pragmatism and all due to great work ethic. Watch Tommaso’s father pumping juice at dusk and you will understand. The future is here, in these hands, with great humility, ethos and promise.

Gianni Bernazzi

The Bellaria Estate first came into being in September 1963, when Assunto Pieri and Bruna Tempori purchased a farmhouse and land in one of the finest and most characteristic Montalcino winegrowing areas. Bellaria’s position just a stone’s throw from the village speaks to its founders’ connection and who else but Gianni Bernazzi could carry forth what his grandfather “Sunto” had set out to accomplish. In ode to his grandfather who passed away in 2018 at the age of 97, a man who in 2017 was one of two remaining original members from the original coalition at the 1967 signing of the Brunello community’s accord. Now Gianni is blessed with extraordinary terroir filled with Galestro schisty clay, iron, Alberese limestone and Arenaria sandstone.

Francesco Ripaccioli

Conversely at Canalicchio di Sopra with Francesco Ripaccioli a Rosso di Montalcino 2018 barrel sample instructs that sangiovese is built on dry extract. It is silky, sensual, full of acidity and fine chiseled tannins. Very giving and also serious but in a nurturing way. The Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 50th Harvest “Canalicchio di Sopra” 2015 barrel sample is a fist full or armistice, liquid cocoa limestone gold, in a desperate state and full of mineral of potential explosive nature and ready to spew graphite and chalk all over the place. It currently sits at 15.6 alcohol and 6.5 acidity. Crazy talk.

Lorenzo Magnelli

At Le Chiuse it was Lorenzo Magnelli who introduced us to a Montalcino speciality, the sparkling Stellare Rosé from the most recently planted vineyard (Pullera) at Il Greppo. This vineyard is destined for Le Chiuse Riserva when Lorenzo’s daughters will be making these wines. For now it’s a no dosage, picked three weeks early, two to three years on lees Rosé made from 100 per cent sangiovese. Quite a lot of sangiovese fruit with high acidity taking this into tart currant territory. An eight hour maceration and healthy hue extraction. Named for Lorenzo’s wife, Stella Renzetti. A wine that says “you can’t have a full barrel and a drunk wife at the same time.” All about happiness, in marriage and making sparkling wine.

Montalcino from Le Chiuse

The sangiovese made by Lorenzo Magnelli are not merely genetic ties to Biondi-Santi. They are without argument some of the most important and expressive Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino in the territory. And they are produced for reasons so intrinsically correct the results perfectly fit the methods. Learning from Lorenzo is the best two hours you could ever hope to spend in Montalcino.

Poggiali

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona estate is located on the South East hillside of Montalcino, close to the medieval village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate and to the famous Abbey of Sant’Antimo. Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona is more than a storied estate and in fact lies in the heart of the Val d’Orcia Park, UNESCO World Heritage. In 1985, after the end of the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona family, Giuseppe Bianchini took control of the winery that is managed today by his sons and nephews. That includes pro cyclist Paolo Bianchini who moved giros to switch paths en route to becoming one of Montalcino’s most important winemakers.

Poggio di Sotto

Luigina Villadei led us through Poggio di Sotto’s certified organic portfolio. The estate was founded in 1989 on the south-eastern side of Montalcino and in 2011 became part of the ColleMassari family. Monte Amiata looms and protects while sea breezes blow in for a property that enjoys a unique microclimate immediately southeast of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The same winemaking team of nearly three decades continue to produce sangiovese of great traditional and authentic construct. The sangiovese are timeless, unparalleled for this special part of Castelnuovo dell’Abate and the rising of San Giorgio. Perpetual upholding for decades of generational standards.

Altesino

It would have been a great pleasure to spend another visit with Elisabetta Gnudi nevertheless at Altesino we sipped on aesthetic Palazzo Altesi, made from 100 per cent sangiovese. The barriques used to aged this Altesino IGT for 12-14 months change everything about the way the grape is expressed from Montalcino vineyards. Younger, less experienced fruit succumbs to the silky beauty and vanilla lushness for an elixir that’s just different than the local Rosso and Brunello, Call it international or what you will.

Leonardo Bellaccini

Thankful to Leonardo Bellaccini for driving down from Castelnuovo Berardenga in Chianti Classico to Campogiovanni in Montalcino to walk the San Felice vineyards and pour for us the Brunello only he can make. At San Felice’s Campogiovanni property we walked the vineyards with Leonardo Bellaccini and tasted Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Il Quercione out of the barrel. There is lift and bright character in 2017 despite the desiccation, concentration and aridity but this was well judged, especially in picking time so poly-phenolic ripeness matches the sugars. It’s big and brawny but curiously, magically and mysteriously carries ripe and ripping if round acids. It keeps everything buoyant and alive. There is 2016, a vintage with excess everything, namely fruit and tannin. This is the year where balsamico and vineyard notes speak louder, of Galestro, clay and calcari. There is more balance between all the parts even while the fruit acts deeper, broods more and talks with more barrel adjunct. Big vintage to be sure and will be long lived. 

Filippo Chia

Then there is Filippo Chia. Filippo’s father is painter and sculptor Sandro, considered the leading member (along with Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi) of the Italian Neo-Expressionist movement,  baptized as Transavanguardia by Achille Bonito Oliva. Sandro Chia bought Castello di Romitorio in 1984, producing his first vintage in 1987 from neighbours’ grapes, now the Loacker property. The Martinis, father and son, have been cellar masters at Romitorio for six generations. Said Sandro, “sangiovese aged for five years is the most extreme and also the most naive. It’s sweet and kind and are wines made by dreamers.” Surely one of Italy’s first expressionistic ideas after the unification of 1861, in 1868 it began with Biondi-Santi. Said Filippo. “Inexplicably and inescapably you can recognize sangiovese from Montalcino. I like a Brunello you can drink six months after release, after it’s five years of aging.”

I had been tasting Filippo Chia’s Castello Romitorio wines for a few years and so now it is this discourse, tasting and northwest Montalcino experience that brings it all together. Another sangiovese epiphany. Thanks for your time Filippo. Of dramatic note is the new vineyard Filippo has cleared for Romitorio’s future. You must stand on this rocky, deeply ferric red soil to understand the estate’s position and its future in Montalcino.

Stefano Cinelli Colombini

All visits to Montalcino should conclude at La Fattoria dei Barbi. Barbi has been owned by the Cinellí Colombini family in Montalcino since 1352. The property extends over 350 hectares (865 acres) of fields and vineyards in southern Tuscany, in Montalcino, Scansano and Chianti. Production of Brunello dates to 1892 and Barbi were the first to export it to Europe, America and Asia. Fattoria dei Barbi is now run by Stefano Cinelli Colombini, educator, historian, keeper of tales, lore, mythology and chosen one who continues a story that has seen the Colombini family connected to these lands for more than six centuries.

With Stefano Cinelli Colombini

Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s ability to relive and rejoice every iota of this territory’s history is the crux of everything Montalcino. His deeper understanding is what you need to know and is based in his family’s long time defence of the traditions and values of the culture of Montalcino, whose ultimate and most valuable fruit is the Brunello. A Montalcino education begins with Stefano Cinelli Colombini, in museums housed of edifice and in mind. What a visit.

The tasting notes

The following 56 tasting notes cover the Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino tasted at the 13 estates we visited in October 2019. Hundreds more will follow when I visit Montalcino again in February 2020 for the next edition of Benvenuto Brunello.

Altesino

Altesino Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016 ($27.95)

Generally aged right to 10 months is large Slavonian oak barrels. Takes off straight from where 2015 left us, that is to say from fruit and into more fruit, of sangiovese in wild berry form, expected and imagined. Exactitude from winemaker Alessandro Ciacci, polished, crunchy and then more tannic as a vintage. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2019

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (994095, $56.95)

From the vintage where agriculture, winemaking and now selling came and will come easy so you can expect the warm, fuzzy, generous and soft. Perhaps too straightforward to be what the powers that be call a five-star vintage but if Brunello is what you want or even what you think you need then begin or continue the journey right here. Very berry, ultra liquorice and über morbido. Soft, amenable and unencumbered. Positive but certainly not overbearing structure. A now and through mid-term years drinking Annata. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted October 2019

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014 (994095, $56.95)

Making the most of the vintage and a quantity 20-30 per cent down from the norm there is a stoic, classic Altesino benchmark quality about the knowing impression derived. It’s just the thing, the feeling, the absolute confidence and polish and precision, out of fields, through winemaking and into glass. Fruit arises out of savoury ashes and ultimately there’s a sense of inclusion, amenability and proper consciousness. Good acids and fine tannins come about without any overbearing qualities. Fine work to no surprise. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted October 2019

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Montosoli 2015 ($121.95)

Expect more from Montsoli, open your mind and palate to the possibilities and 2015 will deliver more complex notions as it must and should. Always the savour, the rocks bleeding or rather in 2015 causing the fruit to bleed through acid structure and then tannins, ever-bearing and in charge. Not quite the power and ability of other vintages in this regard but still Montosoli generated. Also a mid-term prospect but clearly destined for a minimum 10 year run. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted October 2019

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Montosoli 2014 ($121.95)

Montosli is so antithetical to the Annata, a Brunello cuvee that takes its fruit from a wide gamut of Montalcino sources. The northern Galestro-strewn hill brings brushy and bushy savour, a pinch of salt and plenty of site specific sapidity. The cherry aspect is replete with a charred sense of skins and a dusty, alloy bled feeling. Grippy, taut and structured. We’ll see about Montosoli from 2014 but you can bet on the house. The track record is undeniable. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted October 2019

Fattoria dei Barbi

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2012 (928028, $54.95)

Barbi accomplishes an Annata Brunello just haste in 2012, taking expressly written sangiovese red fruit and pushing it to the limits of its natural tendencies, in hue and expression. I would have to say that consistency from this house is an absolute guarantee and that its style trumps vintage as much as any other. This is simply more Barbi than 2-12. That’s all there is to it. Tannins are firm, acidity is strong and fruit is up to the 15 year task. Nothing time sensitive about it and its timeless structure cements the absolution. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted February 2017 and October 2019

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Del Fiore 2012

Barbi has also listened to the wind and vintage ear worms sung from their iconic, 16th century vineyard known as Vigna del Fiore. Red fruit of clarity and purity reigns while acidity is at its finest for the house. The rusticity of cherry, leather and roasted beets combine for full gastronomic effect and lead into a rather sumptuous and mouth coating texture for the palate. This scales the wall and retreats again to stay in the game in which you can play now (well, soon), then repeatedly, at consistent increments, later and later. VdeF from Barbi is a best of both worlds Brunello for both consumer and collector. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted February 2017 and October 2019

Bellaria

Bellaria Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

One year in Slavonian and French oak. In more than one way a deep and developed Rosso though when you look at the iron-rich Galestro vienayrds there’s little surprise. To many this would strike with Brunello immediacy and in fact many producers would make Brunello from this level of juice. There’s some VA though beneficial integration is the command and the order of its ways. Quite ferric and traditional with a salty, near volcanic-esque, certainly mineral vein. A tannic Rosso that will improve with two years time. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2019

Bellaria Estate

Bellaria Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015

Remarkably alternative vintage for Gianni, fresher and more effusive to be clear and sure. Shows with great immediacy and tells a story of vintage variation, especially at altitudes like Bellaria (550-600m) and from soils so poor in organic materials. It’s luxe but also so perfumed, pretty and expressive. Just gorgeous Brunello with fine acidity and sweet tannins. The window will open wide sometime early in 2021 and stay that way for as much time as you need.  Drink 2021-2031. Tasted October 2019

View of Bellaria

Bellaria Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

Spent 28 months in Slavonian and French oak. An extension from the Rosso in every respect; colour, depth, volatility, tannin and the edge of ripeness. The 550-600m of altitude would have been a problem in the past and was indeed in 2014 so don’t come here in search of lush, fruit bomb Brunello. This is sangiovese in requiem for years of time. It’s as grippy, firm, traditional and prim as you are ever going to taste. That said a few minutes of air brings about a swelling of liquid chalky texture. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted October 2019

Gianni Bernazzi and Assunto Peri

Bellaria Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Assunto 2015

Stratified depth of vineyard layers are so controlling, the sangiovese classically styled, Gianni acting as messenger, custodian and shepherd for this place. It’s all here; Galestro, iron, Alberese, Arenaria, tradition, nonno Assunto and everyone else who made Brunello happen in Montalcino. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted October 2019

Bellaria Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Assunto 2013

Selection of grapes from the oldest (30 year-old) vineyard, 30 months in French oak. First produced in 2006 and now an ode to Gianni’s grandfather who passed away in 2018 at the age of 97. An ode now to a man who in 2017 was one of two remaining original members from the original 16 at the 1967 signing of the Brunello community. Rich, luxurious, deeply traditional and long, with fine tannins and plenty of barrel feel. Old school, wood spiced and spread throughout the mouthfeel, though never cloying or misdirected. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted October 2019

Gianni Bernazzi

Bellaria Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Assunto 2012

A vintage with everything in place and though the barrel speaks with so much deeper resonance there’s a variegation of shadows, sweetness and intensity to watch over you, control you and let you know what’s happening in this place. It has become silky smooth, elongated, angles erased with beautiful curves and acidities everywhere. Fine, from another era and living longer than just about anyone else. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted October 2019

Canalicchio view

Canalicchio Di Sopra

Canalicchio Di Sopra Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

Gets neither more ripe nor more effulgent than this Rosso from the vintage of extreme heat salvaged by late season rains. From plants that knew when to shut down and protect themselves before being saved by water re-introduced by nature just before harvest. Taut and near bursting so get at these 17s straight away. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2019

Zonazione investigations with Francesco Ripaccioli

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG “Canalicchio Di Sopra ” 2014

Quite fulsome and layered for 2014 with a push-pull sensation that charms while conversely creating tension between two vineyards, La Casaccia and Montosoli. More fruit than most from this vintage with thanks to six people making a prudent selection by hand, almost to the point of prejudice. Three passages in the vineyard also led to the clarity, purity and plain fruitiness of what came from these challenged grapes. Explains Francesco Ripaccioli: “What we harvested for Brunello was grapes from all blocks that only added up to a tank and a half as compared to the full 19 of potential out of 2015.” Luxurious sangiovese to be sure and so much better understood with six further months in bottle.  Last tasted October 2019

There is a substantiating reality to this sangiovese, typical of the sourness that vintage will not allow to be hidden though with more concentration than many. Chewy really comes to mind when you attack and in turn allows the palate to wage battle on your buds. Things fall into place well enough in spite of what 2014 wants to do to distract from the truth. Clearly a set above the norm. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG “Canalicchio Di Sopra” 2013

Riserva is a selection in the cellar though certain blocks from certain vintages are premeditated and in fact 2013 Riserva is solely selected from the Montosoli hill. The perfume stands apart, rising, haughty and full of fresh roses. The expression of rocks drawn into vines from the new age, climate-affected northern exposure are for perhaps the first time in the Cru’s history a brand new Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello. Salinity, sapidity, power and elegance. Truly. Drink 2022-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG “Canalicchio Di Sopra” 2012

A year previous to the ’13 Riserva (which will be made exclusively from Montosoli hill fruit) there is the depth of clay and controlled power out of Canalicchio cru vines. The absolute attention paid to patience and time is noted from a Brunello such as this, spoken out within the constructs of fruit extraction and wood usage. The tannins are red meaning they are ripe and request that you give this wine as much time as it gave before going to bottle and then to market. Lush, consistent from start to finish and just hinting at notes not quite Balsamico but something other, something derived from sangiovese grown in the grey clay of La Casaccia. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2019

New Romitorio vineyard soil

Castello Romitorio

Castello Romitorio Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017 ($28.99)

Re-tasting the ’17 Rosso with Filippo Chia begins like this. “It’s Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill, like making wine in Montalcino. If you do it a day late you’re going to come up a dollar short.” Don’t miss out on selling Rosso from 2017. A good if hot year but this is a cool sector in Montalcino. Some second and third passage French tonneaux to gift a sweeter perfume, a development into pretty rich liqueur, an acidity that keeps on driving, the fruit, the energy and the point.  Last tasted October 2019

A bigger and richer Rosso with fully extracted and rendered red fruit, somewhat sour and ripping, grippy acids and totally present tannins. Needs a year or two to be itself and then drink respectfully of the appellation for five more. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (236356, $63.95)

Dad (Sandro Chia) bought the estate in 1984, the first vintage being 1987 from neighbours’ grapes, now the Loacker property. Martini father and son, as in cellar master, have been here for six generations. Sandro is known to say this. “Sangiovese aged for five years is the most extreme and also the most naive. It’s sweet and kind and wines made by dreamers.” Son (Filippo) will remind that it’s one of Italy’s first ideas in 1868, after the unification of 1861. Begins with Biondi-Santi. “Inexplicably and inescapably you can recognize sangiovese from Montalcino. I like a Brunello you can drink six months after release, after it’s five years of aging.” This 2015 was bottled, is finished and now as is for three and a half months in. Pretty like the previous declared Annata from Sandro and Filippo Chia but truth be told the level of richness and power is raised up, albeit without any compromise to construct and yes, elegance. The E word applies here, like it or not because this place demands it and you would absolutely know were this messed with, made up or polished by wood, pomp and circumstance. These are some stretched, elastic and elongated tannins. Will extend for hours, days, months and years, open forever, long before it thinks about bouncing back. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted October 2019

Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013 (236356, $63.95)

Upward push, rising perfume, no bass or very little. Red fruit, clean and fresh as there needs, wants and must be on this ridge at heights above the warmer valleys, from variegated soils, lots of red earth, tons of fine mineral expediency. This is what you want to drink in 2013 Brunello. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted October 2019

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

The Rosso that has been produced since 1987, now approximately 30,000-35,000 bottles per year. Six months each in Slavonian oak and in bottle. From the third warmest vintage of the last 100 years. A spicy and well-spiced Rosso from humidity, baked grapes and concentrated fruit at the height of Rosso while finding freshness and accepting being quite high-toned. Speaks resolutely of an accumulated expression for the southern vineyards of the place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2019

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Rossofonte 2015

A cru selection from four blocks at Brunello yields (six tonnes per hectare) and unique for Rosso. Surely no other Rosso di Montalcino noses this way or speaks with such elevated discourse. Quite aristocratic as such, stubborn of acidity and strong in tannin. Not an everyday wine but one with identity, grip and circumstance. Try to understand that this is Rosso from micro activities; vineyards, climate, selection and production. Which means don’t rush though tasting or thinking about this one. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (1065, $84.95)

You can’t help but note the southern Montalcino tone of this fruit first Brunello because there’s just something stingingly distinct about the aromatic tones. It’s a specific savour, direct, grippy and intense. Ages in Grandi Botti, 60-70 hL making for a breadth of fruit, acids and tannins that span a great horizon. Comes from the lighter grey-yellow sand, clay and Galestro soils and it shows in the language of this broad shouldered sangiovese. Lush and perfectly clean. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted October 2019

Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014 (1065, $72.95)

The only label representing the winery in 2014 is this Annata, inclusive of all the grapes brought forth by Pian Rosso. A highly savoury, sandy Galestro spiced sangiovese that just has to stand of its own accord. Firm, linear and taut. Will age without question or equivocation.  Last tasted October 2019

Ciacci e buono, from the beginning, instilled with confidence, finesse and grace. The fruit is beguiling Brunello sangiovese, sour cherry sweetening and flashing as it sits and you taste. Gathers all the necessary attributes along the forest path, through the well-attended vines and into a cellar ready to make things happen. That they do, with charm and structure. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2019

Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013 (1065)

Unheralded perhaps and should never be considered as such because 2013 is wonderfully expressive, effusive, very much alive. Showing its colours in truth and clarity today. Needed exactly this amount of time. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Pianrosso 2015

There was no Pianrosso made in 2014 and so Pianrosso the cru returns from the warm, easy and generous 2015. A large cru with red Galestro soils, deeper in mineral content and so imagine everything magnified, magnetized and hyperbolized. The fruit carries some dried character, surely dark berry flavours and a sweetness of salty sapidity. It’s grippy and tannic but also a touch toasty, sun-dried and roasted. Magnanimous whelp of a Brunello, big-boned, structured and surely capable of developing balsamic, porcini and tartufo character. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Pianrosso 2013

Similar to 2015, Pianrosso is baked and toasty, fruit very much in the dusty, plum, sun-dried dark berry, frutta di bosco and fragola realm. Liquorice leathery and red soil crusted for quite the structural, stylistic and textural variegation.  Last tasted October 2019

Striking aromatics emanate from Ciaaci’s 2013 Pianrosso and you know immediately where it stands and where you will be taken. The level of excellence is noted without hesitation and the launch into taking it all in is done without trepidation. A beautifully lit sangiovese, flitting and twirling, “like a flame dancing in a candle, lighting up your living room.” Great presence and finesse, a tight little strummed set of chords and soulful if traditional harmonies. So beautiful and refined. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted February 2019

Cortonesi

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016

Not simply freshness but unction, fruit culpability and basic perfection. The young vines of five years are just now coming into their speciality, that being quality fruit meeting and melting into more than a modicum of grip and structure. You could pour this Rosso for young Brunello seekers and old Rosso knowers. It will solicit and win over their collective hearts.  Last tasted October 2019

Lovely effulgent fruit in this Cortonesi family Rosso radiates to extrapolate for a 2016 Brunello future, in many ways. First it is this Rosso that benefits from the particular handling, showing in an immediately gratifying plus available sangiovese that drinks with fast-forward Rosso promise and does so on its own terms, for the right Montalcino reasons. Second, even though the producer’s approach to Brunello is another matter in which generally speaking it deals only with older vines, it is this youthful exuberance and wealth of amenability meeting attack that bodes well for the impending grandi vini. It is here that we see the present and the future of Rosso di Montalcino and the respect it is both given and deserved. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2018

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2014

Mostly from the youngest vineyard above the winery on the way up and on the northeast side of the Montalcino hill. No more than six months in big barrel in terms of elévage. Still quite fresh for Rosso and from the challenge of the vintage. Carries a texture too, almost like a dry candy melting, with liquorice and herbal undertone by summer savoury. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2019

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (279083, $66.00)

I’d like to say the tannins on 2015 Annata are sneaky but they are so much more than that. These are grippy, layered and nearly formidable tannins. Good thing the easy, generous and lush fruit is somehow capable of defending itself. Boom this is one of Tommaso Cortonesi’s most accomplished Annata and more capable of aging than even he would probably have guessed he was making. Power and beauty. This is that and more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted October 2019

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

Like the same vintage Rosso the Brunello is showing with perked up freshness and almost no development. Slavonian oak and just the right amount of time has elevated the game and brought all the parts into line. There’s fresh porcini in this moment so no matter that Tommaso found none on a quick forage today. Good earth and crunch from in depth older vines construction and very impressive length. Fine quality for 2014 from a producer to look for when adversity tests your mettle.  Last tasted October 2019

Cortonesi works through the challenge with a sangiovese in 2014 that finds critical mass and therefore celebrates la vita bella in Brunello. With no reason to choose a Vigna-designate nor a Riserva to produce, the best of the best therefore finds its way into this eponymous family Brunello. It’s equipped with notable vintage fruit, finer acids than many and a tannic structure that is not only correct but highly promising. Lengthiness is one of the best in the vintage. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted February 2019

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2005

Quite evolved, certainly a bottle specificity and now diving well into the funghi and the porcini. That said I sense and even think these to be classic 2005 acids still moving upwards while the fruit settles into an ulterior classic pool of liqueur. Just a moment’s amaro and plenty of languishing action, with or without anguish. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted October 2019

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2010 ($202.95)

Now talking post-aggressive behaviour in Riserva not yet advanced ahead of time. There are secondary aromatic hints but the tannins remain in tact, charged and controlling. There’s a circular motion happening hear as fruit and acidity whirl around, outrunning the tannins or at least attempting to. All the sweet things that grow wild and are picked to accent your braises are swirled into the aromatic potpourri of this fine sangiovese of whispers, shadows and silhouettes. It’s a chiaroscuro of a Brunello, all in and we are in turn fully engaged.  Last tasted October 2019

With Tommaso Cortonesi

There are few Brunello vintages afforded more attention in the last 10-plus, certainly ’04 and ’06, increasingly better even from ’08 and looking forward towards what greatness will come in 2015. Yes but not solely magnified through the lens of patience and bottle time, from 2010 La Mannella has coupled upon and layered over itself like compressed fruit and puff pastry. Though it begs for drink now attention, another seven years will be needed before it can safely be labeled as uncoiled and to reveal all that is wrapped so tight. Rich is not the operative but unmistakeable as Cortonesi it is; that natural clay soil funk of resolution and fully hydrated chalk. This is to sangiovese as Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis or Rangen Grand Cru Alsace are to Riesling. It carries in its pocket the absolute meaning and genetic responsibility of where it comes from, with a curative and restorative ability to get you lost. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted February 2017

Lorenzo Magnelli

Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

Chosen from the bigger clusters aged in the youngest barrels for one year. “Rosso must reflect sangiovese’s character more than any other wine,” insists Lorenzo Magnelli. Balance is key and perhaps more of a challenge out of ’17 so expect more flint (soil) and spice (fruit and wood) in this vintage. “For our culture this is the most important wine, it’s what we drink daily.” Morbido, with spice and frankly just plain get me delicious. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015

There is a perfume about 2015, a ripe cherry that stands apart for the vintage and even more specific to Le Chiuse. There are cherry trees planted by Tancredi Biondi-Santi here that mimic or rather the aromatics do so, especially in this wine. It’s all texture and a true sense of the land, a feeling of Galestro, rich clay in mouthfeel and Le Chiuse, the place where the dam closed the water off for irrigation. So much fruit and harmony, between acidity, alcohol and tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted October 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014

Just eight thousand bottles made in this vintage with no Riserva in production. A completely different look at 2014 with this bottle, at the top of integrity, with Le Chiuse savour, throwback complexity and great brightness, surely blessed and pushed upwards for the future. Showing the way it was meant to. A reflection of the vintage and proof of time afforded the vineyard. Last tasted October 2019

Le Chiuse delivers one of the realer deals in 2014 Brunello, with admirably pleasing and concentrated fruit set against a traditional backdrop of ripe acidity, minor Brettanomyces and full-bodied tannins. As it’s not an overly perfumed sangiovese it bucks the vintage trend if only because it avoids botrytis-affected atypical aromas. It’s quite a rich 2014, certainly a bit volatile and capable of going longer than most. Finishes by leaving you a linger of its chewy mouthful. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Riccardo and Godello

Le Ragnaie

Le Ragnaie Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016 ($45.00)

Top quality vintage, elegant and balanced, from the non disposto star of Montalcino, Riccardo Campinoti. His is a Rosso for Rosso sake, discriminant, linear, vertical and come up for the rising. If Rosso can be spiritual it would be like this, poignant and effen-solid good. These are the acids of Montalcino and the depth of earth which holds you firm in the face of a fluent perfume. It’s all in this bottle, fluid and affluent. What you need to know and what you want to drink. It can live for a dozen years. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted October 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 ($115.00)

The come and get me vintage but don’t be misled, distracted or misunderstood. The fraganza di Ragnaie is an intoxicant of the highest order from the highest elevations. This is tonality of verified airy exceptionality. There are fruit landings and destinations, from patches and orchards, without pith and with stone seeds. From only six hectares of the 15 total planted and the balanced one, with Montosoli fruit joining Petroso, Castelnuovo dell’Abate and the four vineyards at 600-plus metres around the winery. Still firm and shadowy so wait three more years. A redux of ’13 but in a wholly antithetical way and only in the ways of Le Ragnaie. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted October 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013 ($114.00)

Forty days on skins from a vintage of beneficial balance acting out of cool weather. The content and concentration are from the long maceration, not from hard pressing or mechanization. Now eighteen months since last tasted it has come into elasticity and more length. It’s the real deal.  Last tasted October 2019

Le Ragnaie farms four vineyards in the central zone of Montalcino; Vigna del Lago, Vigna Fonte, Vigna Cappuccini, Vigna Vecchia but also plots in Castelnuovo dell’Abate and Petroso close to the village. It is the gathering of contrastive and complimentary fruit that deals in defining an estate stylistic for the Classica Brunello. Le Ragnaie’s emits the most exotic perfume of almost any of the oft-stingy ‘13s, in fact this brings a level of fragranza that’s almost impossible for the vintage. I will admit to having waited the entire morning to come across such a floral sangiovese from a vintage that seems reluctant to give such aromatics away. The palate follows along, with smoky smoulder and spice, then turning wonderfully savoury, sapid, salty and herbal. This is the complexity we’ve come to covet from Montalcino, along with a fineness of acidity and lightness of touch. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted February 2018

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG La Fornace 2015

From Castelnuovo dell’Abate at 400m of elevation, planted in the 1980s. A former lake bed, with clay and round sand stones. Strikes the Brunello accord between richness and balance with more fruit than 10 other houses combined. The transparency is the thing; smells like fruit, perfume and the land, like rocks and sandstone. The bleed of Pietraforte into the blood of sangiovese. There’s really no reason to find fault and in fact there is every reason to breath, exhale and smile. That is what happens when you taste a Brunello like this special single-vineyard wine from Le Ragnaie. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted October 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015 ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Montosoli 2015

Riccardo’s first vintage from the Galestro strewn soils at 220m next to Baricci on the northerly Montosoli hill is a completely different animal altogether. The tannic structure is so opposite to the southerly wines, here taut, twined laces pulled oh so tight. Not without the Ragnaie tonality mind you and the transparency, clear, distinct and honest. Not necessarily a terroir vintage and fermentation occurred in oak vats (as opposed to the concrete for the others) and yet it’s so bloody sangiovese. Blood of Montosoli. Drink 2022-2038.  Tasted October 2019

Poggio di Sotto

Poggio di Sotto

San Giorgio Ciampoleto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

From Poggio di Soto’s somewhat recent acquisition. Quite the rich expression of dark red fruit, early harvested, low yielding and carefully extracted. Attention to detail makes for a remarkably drinkable Rosso but one with a serious, tight and intense expression on its face. Very smooth and round. Vine age in the 15 year range, soils of tufo, with gravel and calcari. Drink 2019-2022.   Tasted October 2019

San Giorgio Ugolforte Brunello Di Montalcino 2014 DOCG

From Poggio di Soto’s somewhat recent acquisition. Ugolforte was a 12th century bandit who led a rebellion against Siena. Ugo the strong he was called. In a year when Poggio di Sotto is mitigated with extreme prejudice and no Riserva was made it is this San Giorgio that is allowed to sing and express the quality fruit separated from the chaff in this vintage. It’s a beautiful one, silky smooth and available for interaction right at the word go. Acids are fine not just for the vintage but for clarity and future understanding. Vine age in the 25 year range, soils of tufo, with gravel and calcari. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted October 2019

Poggio Di Sotto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016

Very fine quality of tannins wind their way around the ripest fruit picked right in time to keep the acidity (6.3 tA) not just in line but up there in full regale with the gathered parts. The red fruit is so very specific to appellation and place, two interchangeable parts that make Rosso shine. Crispy and crunchy with juicy fruit in the savoury candy way that’s just what this ideal new deal has to be. Few Rosso will age like this from Poggio di Sotto. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted October 2019

Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (337774, $180.00)

The red fruit of this place and only this place is amplified or better still exemplified in appellative Brunello. There is a glycerin derived and in possession of balance, from soils, elements and climate that is unparalleled for this specific area of Montalcino just to the west and below Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The fine shift from earth to fruit and into tannin through mineral bleed and finally peppery savour all works on the palate. This ’15 is proof of how a team continues to uphold standards of these vineyards no matter the ownership or the hopes, dreams or wishes of those who support and also those who drink from the deep well of this project. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted October 2019

San Felice – Campogiovanni

San Felice Campogiovanni Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Docg Il Quercione 2015 ($136.00)

The combinative adjunct of extract, barrel and soul are at the crux of the San Felice grasp and the very core of winemaker Leonardo Bellaccini’s life work. Never shy, always looking for density, in vineyard plantings, vintage and concentration of this Brunello. Leonardo is very happy with these results if questioning the balance between big fruit and even bigger tannins. What is amazing are the acids he finds, coaxes and extends to lift this from its depths. Done up in 100 per cent oak. Unparalleled for Montalcino. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted October 2019

San Felice Campogiovanni Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Docg Il Quercione 2008 ($136.00)

The 2008 expresses a character or at least has transformed with one that smells so much of all the pretty bushes and herbs that grow so low to the vineyard’s ground. Here the true spirit of the Campogiovanni Azienda comes clean, speaking in pure vernacular tongue and expressing all that is this place. Don’t misunderstand that this Brunello is as its namesake suggests, a wine of big oak, but also bones and persisting fruit. The tannins are so fine, plush and still in control. So much texture, very precise actions and wholly deserving of a place at the table. A real style and a product of new oak blanketing the fruit of old vines. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted October 2019

San Felice Campogiovanni Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigne Vecchie 2011

A perfect sunny summer, like 2010, with some late August showers. Just before harvest there were two heat waves, spiking the sugars from 22 to 25 brix. The potential alcohol breached 16 per cent as a result. The Aussie shiraz vintage, of faux sugar and unusual for Brunello. Glycerin persists just as it showed so early in fermentation, ripe to the edge but did it cross over? To be honest, no. But there is a reduction of balsamico, a tarry feeling, a Sant Angelo in Colle character. Plenty of chocolate, warmth and zonazione personality. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted October 2019

Vineyard at Salicutti

Podere Salicutti

Podere Salicutti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016

There’s something special about a Rosso di Montalcino that speaks to a place, in this case the moderate specificities of the Sorgente vineyard for a 6,800 bottle lot of pure and focused sangiovese. An ease back on the sugar ripening and colour content throttle makes for a transparency and clarity of delight in the way Rosso should be, at least for this lower section of the three main estate vineyards. Inox fermentation, 18 months in larger Allier barrels, further bottle refining and then no filtration makes for Rosso of true to Salicutti spirit, bright, effusive, uncompromising and willing to stick with what works. What else do you need from Rosso di Montalcino? Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted October 2019

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Piaggione 2013

Salicutti is in a south-eastern Montalcino location, on route SP 55 towards Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Now in the altruistic stewardship of owners Sabine and Felix Eichbauer who heed the tradition and ideology created by its previous owner, Francesco Leanza. The agriculture and winemaking team remain to keep the promise and the faith for all of the estate lands and and inner workings. They do so as custodians of Piaggione, the movie star of Salicutti’s vineyards, fastest to ripen from both a sugar and phenolic standpoint but also lending the deepest colour to its grapes. That in itself creates some great oxymoronic irony because Salicutti’s are some of the most transparent and clearest expressions of sangiovese in the territory. As is this stunning 2013, a Brunello of pure, unadulterated and sexy fruit with all of its natural, vintage specific and structured parts on full display. The combined effects of three years spent in an array of French and Slavonian barrels has come to this, meaning the fruit has been coaxed but never pushed so that is speaks only of Piaggione. Blood orange acidity and lightning strike energy make for such a buzz of a Brunello. Barrel tastings of 2016 through 2018 ferments will only magnify and hyperbolize these feelings. The future will hold and be something else. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted October 2019

View from Terralsole

Terralsole

Terralsole Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013

Always a blend of the two vineyards, including Vigna Pian Bossolino, which incidentally was not made in this vintage. The tannins here are nothing short of remarkable, silken, succulent and so strong. A woody and hematic sangiovese with blood and oranges running through its veins. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2019

Terralsole Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2013

This is the baby and yet already more in the approachable realm, offering up lush fruit, ganache of a rich consistency, spice rendered and layered. A chewy Brunello, fruit leathery, up front and generous. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted October 2019

Terralsole Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2012

A concentrated vintage, with muscles and also highest quality phenolics. Truth is spoken in that last bit of content because this noses high, mighty, rich and ripe. The fruit carries a sweetness from which skins and seeds are most certainly responsible. Always Terralsole silky, fine and golden in liquid sangiovese form. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted October 2019

Terralsole Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2007

Even if ’13 and ’12 Riserva are current releases it is this ’07 that should be considered the present tense. The label depicts and angel with an attitude, by Whistler artist Lisa Geddes. Showing its 12 years of development, with plenty of rendered chocolate. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted October 2019

Good to go!

godello

Montalcino, 6pm

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

All the wines of Sicily

Temple ruins of Giunone, Parco Valle dei Templi Agrigento

People get ready and listen up. Back in May of 2019 I paid a visit to the great and ancient, melting and wondrous pot of multiculturalism that is the island of Sicily. Sicilia en Primeur, a.k.a Anteprima Siciliana is one of Italy’s finest. JustSicily founder Giusi Macchiarella and her staff on a mission to be great provided my companions and I with an Enotour designed to make tracks through green pastures and winding roads mostly covering the eastern and southeastern sectors of the island. Though it flew by in an instant there was plenty of time afforded intensive investigations over backroads of Catania and Agrigento, replete with return engagements at four near and dear properties; Feudo Montoni, Tenuta Regaleali, Baglio di Cristo Campobello and Feudo Principe di Butera.

Related – Notes from 2019 Sicilia en Primeur

A walk through #villaromanadelcasale to see the exorbitant 4th century splendour of Roman nobility

These visits reconnected me with some of Sicily’s smartest and greatest characters; Fabio Sireci, Melissa Muller, Alberto Tasca, Davide Bacchiega, Carmelo Bonetta, Rosario Ferro, Antonio Paolo Froio and Alessandra Zambonin. It also made cause to pause and be reminded of the important vineyards and wines for which these messengers are custodians; Vrucara, Barbietro, San Lucio, Campobello di Licata and Deliella. On this 2019 leg of the journey a new vineyard discovery called Diodonos told an old nero d’avola story for the Agrigento cooperative Canicattì beneath the temple ruins of Giunone. Perfect segue for a walk through Villa Romana del Casale to see the exorbitant 4th century splendour of Roman nobility.

A glorious finale in Ortigia at Castello Maniace with @siciliaenprimeur

After the 2018 Sicilia en Primeur I asked “have you ever felt so at home or been so comfortable travelling as you have been in Sicily? If you’ve not been then you might not understand what I mean. Sicily is Casa quantu stai e tirrinu quantu viri, “home for as long as you need to be and land as far as the eye can see.” I always assumed it would be the water to captivate me, but from endless seas of wheat to grapevines covering plains, hills and terraces, it would always be about the land.”

“You might also think this island in the southern Mediterranean would ripen grapes with the sort of ease akin to some of the world’s warmest climates, like South Australia or the Western Cape of South Africa. Oh that it were so simple. In Sicily they say, Austu e riustu capu i mmennu, “after August, winter starts.” Growing grapes is truly a matter of place. You need to be specific with your grape varieties and match them to your micro-climate, but also your soils. This is a Sicilian necessity.”

Calling it a day with the @siciliaenprimeur sommeliers @orteapalace

In Siracusa we tasted all the wines of Sicily over two glorious Ortigia days in the palace. I have split up my 136 tasting notes into 12 separate categories, five of which cover the winery visits. If you’d like to go straight to a particular section covered in this report, please feel free to skip forward and click the quick links for any of the following categories:

It’s on the way back home We’ll be there soon.

Sicily’s Viticultural Year: 2018

For those who keep such records, 2018 will go down as the fifth hottest year on the Mediterranean  Italian island since 1900. Sicilia en Primeur took place between May 6th and 10th, 2019 as Assovini Sicilia presented that peculiar vintage to 100 international wine journalists through three days of eno-wine tours and two more of anteprime in Siracusa. This sixteenth edition of Sicily en Primeur hosted 50 producers in the Ortea Palace Luxury Hotel of Ortigia, with more than 500 wines available to taste. The technical presentation was delivered by Mattia Filippi, winemaker and founder of Uva Sapiens. Five masterclasses were presented by five Masters of Wine; Vineyards with a sea view, Travelling through time, DOC Sicilia, Etna, a constantly evolving territory and Small Destinations, a great history.

#piazzadelduomo #ortigia #syracusa #sicilia

We learned three simple truths about the Sicilian wine industry because of the collective reaction to the heat brought forth by 2018. First, production numbers were consistent with 2017. Second, the other two wine production regions of Italy with similar horizontal exactitudes were Piedmont and Tuscany. Third, Sicily proved that staying true to core values, paying attention to quality and limiting yields in the name of productive balance puts the island’s denominations in a league with the country’s elite.

Related – Sicily in review

Sicily’s aromatic whites

In Sicily, the climate and especially the many micro-climates bless the island with levels of aromatic complexity that come straight off of the skins of the grapes, especially the whites. The winemaker attuned to and in tune with his or her terroir is not in search of fat wines because quite frankly, in Sicily they already have so much of everything. So the question begs, “why do they need more?” This fundamental approach is surely an existential one but also one that is highly practical and when followed always leads to some of the most truthful aromatic white wines on the planet. From catarratto, grillo and inzolia to carricante and zibbibo, Sicilian whites are simply killing it. Two prime examples are noted from May visits with Fabio Sireci at Feudo Montoni and Alberto Tasca at Tenuta Regaleali. Many others offered up thrilling discoveries, including those made by Planeta, Tornatore, Donnafugata and Rallo.

Fabio Sireci and Melissa Muller

Feudi Montoni

Feudi Montoni Catarratto Masso 2018, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

Masso is the cru, “conglomerate stone,” from the soil. Fermented in cement, locked in for and with freshness, sapid and ultra fresh. In 2018 it rained every 10 days, including during harvest so the aromatics are an about face from 2017, a vintage that saw no rain from March to October. What was a relative tropical 2017 is now an herbal, verdant 2018, with aromatics filled by wild finnocchio, fava, honeysuckle, chick pea and lentil. So to speak. Great freshness and so linear, with more age potential. More lime in ’18 and sapidity but only having tasted ’17 will you heed to that belief. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019.

Feudo Montoni Inzolia Dei Fornelli 2018, Sicilia DOC (539932, $22.95)

‘Tis a perfumed vintage for inzolia in Montoni’s world and while the length of time for its stay in stainless is not defined, it remains at service, ready when ready and different every year. If it’s floral so be it with thanks to the blooming heather or in this property’s case, the purple honeysuckle. Another indigenous wine extended from the pied de coup, wildly elegant and yet so simple. Will gain some honey and more flinty strike with a few years in bottle. “And we’ll all go together.” Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Grillo Timpa 2018, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

Like the cattaratto and the inzolia the aromatics have turned 180 degrees in ’18 from the wet year, with linearity and direct to the senses notes. Still the fresh squeeze of lemon gets you quick, with smiling spirit. A wholly soulful grillo that will keep you woke and alive. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nerello Mascalese Rosé Di Adele 2018, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

“For you Adele I will pull out all the thorns and put in roses.” This from Fabio Sereci’s father to his mother. Also symbolic for bringing a vineyard back to life. The only wine not named after a cru, but after mama, the mama, the only mama. The “roses of Adele.” The most sapid, herbal, linear and did I mention sapid Rosé in the these parts and any nearby and far away. Take nerello mascalese, grow it in the wilds of Feudo Montoni and this is the result, elegant, lengthy and certainly piu sale. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Lagnusa 2018, Sicilia DOC (523738, $23.95)

The cru where the nero d’avola grows, the lazy one or better yet the smart one, intelligent one who is a late starter, but when he works he’s very good at what he does. Lagnusa. Also a grape gown in clay soils from which yields are low, once a negative now very positive in terms of quality. Some concrete aging and only a short contact with mostly (approximately 80 per cent) old barrels. Another factor of a vintage, herbal, dusty, so very fennel and aromatic enhancing legumes, non marmalata, far from dense, heavy or over the edge in any possible sense of reality. Just balanced in its slightly wild, feral, cured and elegant way. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara 2015, Sicilia DOC ($58.00)

The en primeur nero d’avola, finished but so far from even hinting at a readiness. Wild strawberry and the dreams of aromatics to come; carob, liquorice, salumi and all the herbs. Grasses and magical things that grow in a Montoni natural world. Top quality acidity for 2015, reeling, supportive and wild. A truly structured wine and one that will resist growing old despite the passage of time. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara 2010, IGT Sicilia

From Fabio Sireci’s pre-phylloxera vineyard in which some heritage nero d’avola with unparalleled root structures find water six to eight metres below the sand and clay layers. Some are as old as 120 years and still others have been raised by the Sireci method of propaginato, the bending of a heritage vine cane into the earth and then brought up as a new vine. The savoury here is fed by so many surrounding native plants, aromatic oils and how they share the terroir with the Vrucara vines. It’s a great wine, singular, mature and mellowing but done with such confidence and lessons learned. One of Sicily’s greatest wines of confidence and humility. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara 2008, IGT Sicilia

Still just a baby, curative youthful, high acidity very much in charge with an uncanny at present aroma of wild strawberry. Impactful wild fennel and roses still in bloom. Just the first stages of secondary character are upon the aromatics but structure controls the rest, all of whom still lay in wait around the next decade. We visited the queen by pickup at night where she sits on her throne, as she has for 120 years, with her children born by propaginato, over the course of all that time. Like a cavallo indonato or, if you like, non manzito. Untrained, not wanting to be fenced in, needing time to civilize, habituate and domesticate. We’ll all be long gone.  Last tasted May 2019

The answers are so simple and yet unanswered because magic is involved. You can understand the old vines and the way their fruit turns into wines that begin with ancient wisdom but move so little in the first seven years. What happens at 10 is the turning outward, to express the place and speak the dialect of the cru. The acidity is still high but is now in lift, with fruit at the height and en anergy that flows, really flows, moving across your palate with grace, grab and attention. A contiguous wine from start to finish, with intensity, impression and precision. The structure is come cavallo domato, like a trained horse. Dramatic nd’A but with no drama at all. Tamed and in respect of ancient vine, where it grows and what it wants to give. Ma zitto, a wine to keep you silent. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted May 2018

Feudo Montoni Perricone Core 2008, Sicilia DOC ($22.95)

The most interesting of grapes, known as guernaccia in this part of Sicily, “the grape of the farmer,” thick-skinned, disease resistant and perfect for making home made wine. Full phenolic perricone still has a green pit, picked late (in November), so Fabio cuts/crimps the vine very hard, blocking the flow of sap from the rootstock to the clusters, ostensibly creating an appassimento technique but in the vineyard, one week before harvest. Intriguing from bitter cocoa, through tobacco, carob, bokser and liquorice. You absolutely need lignification, brown stems, for whole bunch fermentation and add all this up, the grape, the techniques and the result is almost singular for any red wine in the world. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Passito Rosso, IGT Terre Siciliane

From nero d’avola and perricone. Upwards of 200 g/L of RS. That nero liquorice and carob is magnified, hyperbolized and liquified. The acidity brings stability and re-introduces the varietal centrifuge and microcosmic sense of place to the wine. This is like the place itself, centre of some people’s necessary universe, where everything goes on and on.  Drink 2019-2029. Tasted May 2019

Feudo Montoni Passito Bianco, IGT Terre Siciliane
From grillo with some cattaratto to elevate and manage acidity in a passito that is upwards of 136 g/L of RS. So much fruit goings on; gelid orange, caramelized orange, burnt pineapple and apricot. Just faintly nutty, surely unctuous and fine. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2019

So good to be back @tenutaregaleali with @albertotasca

Tenuta Regaleali

Tenuta Regaleali Nozze d’Oro 2017, Sicilia DOC

A wine with a nod in ode to Alberto Tasca’s grandparents and their 30th anniversary, made from inzoilia off of the old (back to 1966) Barbieto Vineyard and blended with sauvignon blanc grown at the highest site on the estate. From a hot and quick vintage the two aromatic varieties layer to create something intense and the connection to Bordeaux Blanc in style is somewhat an uncanny one. A seamless and straightforward white wine with top quality sweet acidity and exceptional food pairing ability. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Regaleali Nozze d’Oro 2014, Sicilia DOC

A cooler vintage makes for a flintier, tighter and more snappy white blend, from Barbietro Vineyard grown inzolia and sauvignon blanc. If the hot 2017 was thought to be a Bordeaux ringer than this will double down on that idea, in fact this makes that vintage seem downright tropical. Crunchy, sapid and in the truest sense of the word, so bloody mineral. Lovely bit of grapefruit like bitters with a note on ginger on the finish. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2019

Alberto Tasca

Tenuta Regaleali Nozze d’Oro 2006, Sicilia DOC

A remarkable study in longevity for a Sicilian white blend but you have to delve deeper and into the microcosmic world of the Tenuta Regaleali Estate. Flinty like 2014 though of some more humidity and also residual, semi-tropical fruit substance still relative within the subtext of a cool vintage. It’s like lime dousing mango and gooseberry in cooling mode out of the stufa. Still very flinty and implosive, spirited and gaining speed, if traction even. Impressive look at a 13 year-old joint between inzolia and sauvignon blanc, acidity and structural elegance. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Regaleali Perricone Tasca d’Almerita Guarnaccio 2016, Sicilia DOC

The artist also known parochially as guarnaccio is the magical grape variety of endemic proportions that only Sicilia can claim. A wine that will open doors to perception and change the way you see Sicily, not just because it’s different but because it’s exciting. Like cabernet franc with sweet basil, liquorice and sweet peppery plum. Just an ideal vintage, liquid chalky, high acid, full fruit complement and ideal extract. Crunchy like a mouthful of berry rocks.  Last tasted May 2019

Endemic perricone is the grape that has always existed at Regaleali, since 1954, in the historical San Lucio vineyard. The massal selection allowed for extending the vineyard, because believing in perricone (always known as Guarnaccio at the Estate) means respecting the winemaking past of western Sicily, which was rich in this grape. Because brother Rosso del Conte was always offering an age able wine, it was decided to bottle this varietal wine for freshness and possibility. It sees 12 months in 2nd and 3rd use barrique. The first vintage was 2012 and there is a sweet nuttiness about this grape made in this way, like marzipan or nougat, with currant red fruit and in a way, like cabernet franc but without any pyrazine intrusion. A note of carob or bokser joins in, advantageous acidity for buoyancy and a calmness without any real demand by tannin. So much pleasure and confidence. Too early in its tenure to know about aging solo but how can confidence not speak to an avowal of yes? Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2018

Tenuta Regaleali Rosso Del Conte Tasca d’Almerita 2014, Sicilia DOC

The famous blend of perricone and nero d’avola that does not tread into the danger zone of over ripeness and jam, keeping acidity and running with the devil, for the better part of 50 years. Extremely youthful wine, still reductive, still reeking of its multi-vegetal/floral scents of herbs, legumes, grasses and flowers that grow all around the infamous vineyard. The oak regime is still very much in charge of the fruit and so a vanilla-graphite film rests atop the syrah-like pepperiness of the endemic fruit blend. Should begin talking in a dialect that lends a sense of place in two or three more years time and will be a long-lived RdC. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted May 2019

Tasca d’Almerita Rosso Del Conte 1998, DOC Monreale

The original Super Sicilian is a nero d’avola and perricone marriage though over the years they have swapped place in terms of which one leads. Still a secondary time and place, with fruit coming around again and again, especially at the finish. A perricone bulk head wonder with nero d’avola wings. Very much a creamy chocolate ending that while certainly a matter of oak it’s really quite dreamy and through a connection to earthiness it brings you back to the vineyard. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello C’D’C Cristo Di Campobello Rosso 2018, Sicilia DOC

Proper Rosato, of chalk and a faint feign of sweetness, lithe in legerement, no more than two or three hours of free press run. An expression of nero d’avola, of currants and savoury but also sweet herbs. Perfectly salty and in salivation solicitation. That’s what you need and also because there is fruit, real nero d’avola fruit, inclusive of tiny wild strawberries. Only 8,000 bottles are made, out of an estate total of 300,000, in this the fifth year of blush production. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Adènzia Bianco 2018, Sicilia DOC

The 50-50 grillo and inzolio blend that is the expression of white wine as a philosophy from the estate. A Sicilian dialect word that means “pay attention and take care, to the little details, to something or someone.” A soil enriched white blend with tang, silk, salt and richness. It reminds of some Western Cape chenin blanc with melon and sweet lime flavours filling up a frame built on white crumbling stone and aridity. Good persistence noted from a persistently wet year. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Adènzia Bianco 2009, Sicilia DOC

Now a look at the 50-50 grillo-inzolio joint going back 10 years and a wine you might not expect to age this long. An estate credo for the dialectical expression that asks to “pay close attention, take care of the things and people you know and love.” Still carries some impressive energy mixed with some warmer fruit like banana and mango, dusted with dried herbs and fine chalky salt. The acidity persists cut with tonic. Better showing than than the 2008 poured here one year ago. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Grillo Lalùci 2018, Sicilia DOC

And so grillo on its own from Campobello stands alone with a pulse and a stand up to be noticed personality that speaks to a relationship with the land. “A most representative white for us,” says Carmello, “a great variety with a great potential.” Literally translates to “the light,” in reference to times when economics and potential were in the dark. Also means “hope” in light at the end of the tunnel. Rich and sapid, implosive and saline, like peaches sprinkled with rock chalk and fresh basil. Very fresh, very young, at heart. It’s Papa Bonetta who says it best. “I’d like to make a toast with Lalùci, to think positive and see the light in every day of our life.” Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Grillo Lalùci 2013, Sicilia DOC

Two bottles are opened because one is just slightly deeper hued and showing an oxidative note. Each does to an extent which comes us no surprise for a six year-old white from grillo of micro-oxygenated life moments. It’s still reductive, smoky, flinty and like a Sicilian marriage between Bordeaux Blanc and Hunter Valley sémillon. The oxidative bottle is not nearly as smoky or expressive and while it’s not necessarily faulted the advancement must be a result effected by the quality of the cork. It’s actually quite flat in comparison with the sound bottle offering more richness meeting salinity and tension on the palate. More than curious, in fact this is a fascinating look at grillo. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Laudàri Chardonnay 2017, Sicilia DOC

Tasted last year after only only week in bottle, now the reductive aspect and the equalizing barrel are front and centre in this youthful wine from a very warm and even more so, an extremely arid vintage. The chardonnay vines were planted back when no one wanted wines made from autochthonous grape varieties and here twenty some odd years later have become some important heritage vines for the estate. It’s chewy and structured chardonnay, will be improved in another year’s time and while may not live like some cooler vintage brethren, will still develop more interest. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Adènzia Rosso 2017, Sicilia DOC

Silky red, fine, refined and thorough. The blend is 50-50 syrah and nero d’avola, raised in large 100hL barrels. Tini in Legno is the tradition, from tanks meeting barrel where the bottom and the top portions are stainless steel. This allow every aspect of the winemaking to be controlled and the technique combines the old and the new. No surprise this is as smooth as you might imagine. There’s a chalky terroir doubled down by the chalky grain of barrel running through the veins of this deep and warming red blend. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Licata hospitality @cristodicampobello is always on point.

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Lusirà Syrah 2016, Sicilia DOC

Lusirà is Syrah in dialectical Sicilian speak. From a micro-climate and a soil that can express syrah with elevated, aerified and intense aromatics. Fermentation in stainless steel and aging in French oak barriques, new, second, third and fourth passage. All blended back together and the result is rich, richer and richest. It’s a silken feeling, a peppery liquidity and good persistence. Highly modified and prepared syrah for pomp, pop and pleasure. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Nero d’Avola Lu Patri 2016, Sicilia DOC

“The father” is the ultimate red wine expression from Campobello for which all things endemic and traditional are drawn upon for the crafted nero d’avola. The process is the same as Lusirà Syrah, stainless steel fermentation and aging in barriques from one through four years old. Rich as nero d’avola can be, of sweetly endowed fruit and plenty of swagger. This nDa knows exactly what it wants to be, sticks to its guns and tells the world. Look at me, I am nero and I am proud. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Del Cristo Di Campobello Nero d’Avola Lu Patri 2009, Sicilia DOC

The father, as opposed to “my father,” so that it celebrates all fathers. That and the fact that nero d’avola is the father of Sicilian grape varieties. A patriarchal wine and three different samples are poured. A bit oxidative and musty with some raisining fruit. More freshness and spirit with good acidity in the second but still showing similar to the first. The third is most similar to the first. They are all past their best but all show what nero d’avola can do if treated with hands off kid gloves. The 2016 is an example of the trending direction en route to finding the strange, kind and fine magic. In the end it grows on you to make you think of things that matter.  Last tasted May 2019

We tasted two bottles of Lu Patri 2009, the first being a bit muted, not very evolved, a character that could be described as one of slow micro-oxygenation. In the second a minute advancement and I agree with Carmelo that this is preferable, because by now it is clear that all of his wines get better with age. They are not that much fun when stuck inertia-like in their undeveloped youth. The evolution at this stage has brought wild cherry, part fresh (Yes!) and part dried. The acidity is linear up and down the sides of the mouth and the length exceptional. First wine with true chocolate and espresso ahead of the balsamico. The last supper nero d’avola. Truly. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018

Canicattì

Canicattì Catarratto Aquilae 2018, IGP Terre Siciliane

From the contrada of Aquilata, municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. The quickest and fruitiest catarratto there just might be, with straight to the point starlight fruit after just a few months of fermentation/aging completion. Like value vermentino or greco, straightforward of recognizable orchard and tree fruit. The minor complexity is like Eledrflower and blanched almond. Simple, fresh, clean and dry. 4.35 euro ex-cellar price. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Grillo Fileno 2018, Sicilia DOC

From the municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. With some higher altitudes at play (up to 600m) this child of zibbibo and catarratto is a spiced, herbal and wildflower grillo, fresh and direct though quite expressive. There’s a fruit tincture meets tin cup sweetness elevated by arranged acidity and garnished by mint. Solid and very drinkable with a minor lemon pith bitter note on the finish. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Dining with the boys of @cvacanicatti at #restaurantecaico in #valleditempi #agrigento

Canicattì Grillo Acquilae Bio 2018, Sicilia DOC

From the contrada of Aquilata, municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. The organic one and like father catarratto it’s a quick ferment and ageing for easy, fresh, sapid and instant access. What is lacks in complexity as compared to the Fileno it more than makes up for it in acidity, clarity and ubiquitous amenability. No over-thinking needed or involved. Fry some small fishes and exhale. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Rosato Delicio 2018, IGP Terre Siciliane

From the municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. The Rosé is 50-50 nero d’avola and nerello mascalese taken from younger vineyards and aged for four months. More about fruit than acids, although the latter’s presence is noted quite prominently. Strawberries, red delicious apple and currants meet sweet herbs and this is ultimately really well made Rosé with nary a bitter moment. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Nero D’avola Centuno 2016, Sicilia DOC

From the municipality of Canicattì and the “hinterland” of Agrigento off of limestone and silty soils. Saw 12 months in barriques and the graphite-eucalyptus notes confirm the newness of the aging. That said it exhibits some notable varietal character albeit in a lush, modern, oxy and forward manner. Clearly a wine made with a specific idea and executed plan in mind. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Diodonos 2016, Sicilia DOC

Next vintage from the 2010-ish resurrected vineyard beneath the temple ruins of Giunone, off of sandy, alluvial soils at valley floor altitude. This is mostly nero d’Avola two months in tank and 10 in barrels, then six more before release. A sense of place truly comes through from this youthful 2016 with both sugar ripeness and phenolic ripeness walking hand in hand. The 10 per cent coming from nerello mascalese and cappuccio is nicely supportive for a wine that tastes like nero d’avola should. Balanced, bright, fruit full and structured. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Canicattì Diodonos 2015, Sicilia DOC

From a once abandoned and now resurrected vineyard (around 2010) below the temple of Giunone, off of sandy, alluvial soils at valley floor altitude. Varietal nero d’Avola two months in tank and seven or eight in barrels, then six more before release. A sense of place is important because this carries more, albeit some dried fruit varietal character and in spite of 10 per cent coming from nerello mascalese and cappuccio. Chewy, fruit leather character and some finishing bitters. Goes all out for sugar ripeness, pressing and extraction with a minor green seeds astringent note. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted May 2019

It is such a pleasure to travel across oceans, to talk, taste and learn with friends, colleagues and wine’s sharpest minds ~ at #siciliaenprimeur with @principidibutera @antoniopaolofroio and @alessandrazambonin

Feudo Principi Di Butera

Feudo Principi Di Butera Grillo 2018, Sicilia DOC

The child of zibbibo and cattaratto, a recent story actually, from an agronomists’ experiment. This is “A” type of grillo, also know as the “green one,” as opposed to the “B’ used in sweet Marsala production. The green association is a sauvignon blanc one. The verdant character may be present but plays second and third strings to the freshness and the acidity. Implosive grillo and salivating quite frankly. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Inzoila 2018, Sicilia DOC

A new soil which is both a blessing and a curse, a pain and a joy to work with. Quality comes from lower yields and specific soils. Here inzolia grazes into hyper-metallic and mineral territory, protected from the heat of the sun, in avoidance of saturated copper, sunflower and gilded gold. Very short skin-contact and nurturing care turn inzolia into this, sapid and even salty, expressive of the calcareous soil and the sea breezes coming from a mere eight kilometres away. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Inzoila Séro 2018, Sicilia DOC

Serò is inzolia that saw some time in old barrels and also extra time in bottle. It has maintained its vineyard and atmospheric character while also carrying an oxidative note in opposition to the reductive sibling. Takes the varietal out of vintage and into something structured, with tonic spirit and implosive tang. This is surely something new for inzolia, to be taken seriously into something from a winemaker’s (Paolo Antonio Froio) imagination and beyond. The finish adds toasted chestnut and brown butter, not atypical for wines that pass through Bourgogne barrels. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Syrah 2017, Sicilia DOC

The first red to harvest in August at a time with less of a probability to face climate stress. It’s rich, spicy, liquid chalky, peppery and finishing with a minor note of creosote or mesquite. The vintage only accentuates the character, concentrating floral aromas and fine-grained structure without compromise or consequence to über-heightened flavour. A third is put to 350L tonneaux and it shows, in depth of accent and overall composition. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Butera Pasta

Feudo Principi Di Butera Nero d’Avola 2016, Sicilia DOC ($18.95)

Find another nero d’avola that smells like this. I dare you. It’s wildly floral, feral and meaty but not really a matter of sauvage. The fruit optimization and concentration is simply unparalleled and while extraction is ambitious this never gets into over mature berries and cherries. Right now there is strawberry and the just ripe cherry but not so far away are balsamico, tobacco, truffle and all things leather. Only large botti and no tonneaux are used, in respect to the terroir.  Last tasted May 2019

Really complex perfume, jumping from the glass, fresh, vital, from large plantings that make up more than 50 per cent of the agriculture. It’s both dark red fruit expressive and also herbal, of fennel and then a territorial limestone impression running through the fruit. Quite chewy and expansive in the mouth, all a result of stainless fermentations followed by older, larger barrels, 30 and 50 hL. Gives a broad, soft, elasticized and stretched palate texture with no departure from varietal and place. Very focused, clean, modern interpretation with no excesses, attitude or conceit, nor ambition neither. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted May 2018

The man, the thinker, the legend- Antonio Paolo Froio @principidibutera ~ calcaire soils, focused wines, ocean breezes, calming vistas and @zoninwines hospitality. A perfect Sicilian storm.

Feudo Principi Di Butera Nero d’Avola Deliella 2015, Sicilia DOC ($55.00)

Take everything you think you have come to know about a Butera nero d’avola and begin to multiply, extrapolate and exaggerate. High acidity and a mentholated accent work with the dark purple fruit. Did not think the “normale” was one dimensional but this makes that wine seem simple by comparison. Only the best berries are chosen and only those of the right size and dimension. Precision and focus define this structured wine first produced in 2000 and one that has the potential to age gracefully for up to 20 years.  Last tasted May 2019

Deliella is a selection in the vineyard, from edgy, prurient and analytical investigations in special vineyard blocks with maximum of five bunches per vine to find more concentration from each vine. It’s actually quite a taut and reserved nero d’avola with a slow release of aromatics and charm, dark liquid fruit chalky, structured and quite calm. Takes its time but the acidity carefully climbs up and down the sides of the mouth to stress its position in the overall architecture. Aged in 30 hL casks (and larger tonneaux) for 14 months. There will be some extended longevity here, not forever but likely five to seven years. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018

Feudo Principi Di Butera Nero d’Avola Deliella 2013, Sicilia DOC ($55.00)

From a time before Antonio Paolo Froio took over the winemaking duties and yet you can’t help but notice the terroir in this single-vineyard nero d’avola. Blacker fruit than red and plenty of spice. Although the oak-aging is stronger than perhaps what needs the fruit persists, the acidity is vibrant and supportive and the concentration handles tannins with great ease. Love the way the caress in energy remains in charge and expressive over the palate. Still very youthful but if you’ve tasted more recent vintages it will then come as no surprise. Very capable wine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Sparkling Wines

Cantine Nicosia Sosta Tre Santi Carricante Brut Metodo Classico 2016, Sicilia DOC ($55.00)

Varietal carricante from Catania province carrying true green character, lime over lemon and dried herbs. Great grape spirit, high elevation airy tension and flavours promising orange zest, spry and finishing fine bitters. Make use of this ambitious, finely leesy and refreshing sparkling wine as a most excellent aperitif. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Cantine Nicosia Sosta Tre Santi Brut Metodo Classico 2014, DOC Etna ($55.00)

The use of nerello mascalese is certainly intriguing for traditional method sparkling wine, here from volcanic soil on Etna. The varietal character is not without its obviousness in light berry meets currant aromas and then the citrus aspect of red fruit takes over on the palate. Tart in just the right way, balanced and driving steady right down the middle of the road. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Gaudensius Blanc De Blancs, IGT Terre Siciliane

Labeled as B de B though a 50-50 carricante and chardonnay joint from Catania province with sulphur and citrus dominating the intensity on the nose. Leesy and creamy with some lemon pith for what adds up to a disparate and meandering sense of pleasure. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Casa Vincola Fazio Grillo Spumante Brut, Sicilia DOC

Here grillo from Trapani delivers the basics, with some sugar residually noted and not entirely captured by quick acting fermentation and acidity. Very peachy as per the varietal, the technical guru’s instruction and the method. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Sibliana Due Sorbi, Sicilia DOC

Trapani raised grillo supports a supple and fairly still bubble with concrete and lime aromas leading to a gain of ascension on a palate that comes as quite a pleasant and tension filled surprise. Goes herbal and tannic at the finish. A program with plenty of potential in need of more lees, more acidity and more time. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Sibliana Grillante, Sicilia DOC

Grillo from Trapani in Grillante form is much more direct, dry, intense and ultimately refreshing. There’s a true lemon and lime spirit in this simple, effective and really well made, balanced and focused bubble. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Palmarès Brut

Grillo of no specific production zone is a child of Trapani provincial heritage (Mazara del Vallo, south-western Sicily) and it’s one of the more leesy sparkling wines in Sicily. That and great acidity balance out the sweetness and the creamy consistency. Kind of goes for all out broke to layer and solicit pleasure, albeit with quite a whack of flavour packet concentration. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Gaudensius Blanc De Noir, DOC Etna

Mount Etna, nerello mascalese and downright intensity are the triad of notation from a sparkling wine of great freshness and drive. The lime notes are there from start to finish and there’s a reductive and peppery green apple bite, with an amazing note of green nasturtium seed. This would pair so well with a salad augmented by salty chèvre or feta with nuts, seeds and fresh nasturtium. Like a Brut Zero from Franciacorta, in a way, with great length and potential right here. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Principi Di Butera Nerlouce, DOC Sicilia

A 100 per cent Charmat method nero d’avola that was first produced in 2018 to initiate a sparkling wine program under the guide of winemaker Paolo Antonio Froio. The new traditional method program will launch in 2020 from the 2016 vintage and this “black light” is a careful play on words for a varietal wine made light, fresh, fruity and a touch sweet from the dark-hued red grape. It’s vibrancy is very useful for midday sipping under the Butera sun with a cool breeze and a view across the surrounding hills. It’s just the beginning of a long sparkling relationship ahead. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Carricante Brut Metodo Classico, DOC Sicilia

The varietal classic method sparkling wine come from the same vineyard as the Eruzione, picked around the 20th of September. First bottles were made in 2009 and first commercial release was 2010. Today the vintage (2015) is defined but actually on the back label. Stoic and sharp, attention grabbing and if short of eruptive, still blowing ash, smoke and pumice. So to speak of course but there is true intention, pet up tension and after a sip, release. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Gurvinder Bhatia

Whites from Etna

Cottanera Etna Bianco Contrada Calderara 2016, DOC Etna

Salty volcanic single cru Etna Bianco (at 750m) with a distinct lava-wild finocchio aroma that demands immediate attention. Also quite floral with as much of a sense of place in pocket as any carricante from anywhere on the volcano. Some tonic and ginger-orange bitters mark the back end in finale. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Cusumano Alta Mora Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

Herbal, rich and lightly salty carricante with yeoman acidity and good soil derived tang. Quickly on the lime and savoury herb angle without equivocation. Basic really and perfectly serviceable. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Gulfi Carjcanti 2016, IGT Terre Siciliane

Highly curious and salty savoury carricante from Gulfi, apposite to Etna Bianco in more than simple denominational ways. It’s flinty reductive, white peppery and bloody spirited stuff, a Ragusa white of parochial and carefully if rebelliously constructed purpose. The tart aspect is angular to implosive and the length a matter of exceptional extract and tannin, if not necessarily acidity. It’s a different sort and so worth the visit. Will age really, really well. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Sant’Andrea Bianco 2016, IGT Terre Siciliane

This Catania Bianco is quite evolved in its own idiosyncratic way, with a barrel influenced note that still indicates reduction in a wine that has clearly seen its share of oxygen. The paraffin and beeswax are just ahead of what soon will be honey and lemon curd entangled romantically for soft lighting and music. A natural, in the local demure of dimly lit carricante for those who need to get lost in their wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Bianco Archineri 2018, DOC Etna

The Archineri cru brings the most laser-like and saltiest intensity to carricate from Etna. It’s a syringe filled with concentrated lemon and grape spirt injected into the utmost varietal conjecture that can be captured from this volcanic moonscape. Such a crunchy mouthful of lava, basalt and love. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

The Etna Bianco normale from Pietradolce shoots less of a laser shot into carricante and while it may be seen as rounder and more amenable than the Archineri and it is a perfectly knowable introduction to Etna Bianco. You should and will not be fooled for its honesty. It shoots from the hip and means serious Etna business. A must have for licensees and those who just want to share the volcano with friends, enemies and colleagues. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Vivera Salisire Contrada Martinella Etna Bianco 2015, DOC Etna

Salsire is by now well accumulated in character from time and evolution to bring a lovely sense of that secondary expressiveness only carricante can do with idiosyncratic oath. It’s round and full of lemons in many respects; juice, curd and zest. Has come to where volcanic Etna can and will. It just is, that’s all there is and it’s alright. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Alessio Planeta

Planeta Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

Planeta’s Etna Bianco is the poster child, smiling face and sharp as a tack example, also carrying a smirk and an all pervasive knowing of what do to. This fruit and the way it is handled go hand in hand with what you want, need and desire from carricante, volcanics and winemaking. There is substance, a serious basaltic injection and more fruit than most white grape varieties are capable of giving without gushing, cloying or tropically distracting your attention. Such an ideal vintage too. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2017, Sicilia DOC ($42.99)

Eruzione lies in wait, impulsively structured, set marbled in state as an implosive carricante (with five per cent riesling) class of its very eruptive own. It is a mimic of its volcano, a wine spewing smoulder and gaseous aromatics surrounding a core of fruit so compact, connected, exacting and protected. Perhaps a misunderstood and even strange vintage advance but in a world’s away way the evolution will take time to unwind and reveal what lays behind. There is nothing like fantasy and musical sci-fi imagery in a wine of such mystery and we’re all better off to be caught up in the presence of this great unknown. We’ll find some things out when this casts in a future light so for now, just enjoy whatever laser light show and sonic beeps happen to come your way. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Torre Mora Etna Bianco Scalunera 2018, DOC Etna

Scalunera is a new player steeped in Etna volcanic tradition from the house that Puccini built. The carricante fruit is highly augmented with complexities of almond pit, peach blossom and soft marzipan. It’s both herbal and fruity with these accents providing the salve greeting proviso to consumer pleasure. Can’t go wrong here. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Le Sabbie Dell Etna Bianco 2018, DOC Etna

The blend of carricante and catarratto (60-40) from the sandy basalt on Mount Etna is a rounder and more herbal pesto expression with sweet verdant personality and very lime driven flavours. It’s the salsa verde of Etna with fine acidity and true salinity. Golden and purely pleasurable, if slightly metallic Bianco. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Firriato Cavanera Ripa Di Scorciavacca 2016, DOC Etna

This Firriato carricante-catarratto blend (60-40) takes an about face turn away from the Sabbie sister and goes more linear, direct and intense. Still verdant but this time less herbal and more reductive, with green apple bite. A bigger and more focused and extracted Etna Bianco with more bones and further potential to develop beneficial bitters and secondary notes. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Tornatore Etna Bianco Pietrarizzo 2017, DOC Etna ($34.00)

The cru Pietrarizzo concentrates fruit, style, cause and effect in a carricante (with 10 per cent catarratto) that really builds texture upon a core of stability. There’s a lemon layering as mille-feuille as any on the mountain from which mouthfeel and balance are well-afforded time, grace and place. This is the quintessentially responsible, responsive and remonstrative Etna Bianco. It’s giving, generous and free-spirited, taking cleanest fruit and bringing a Contrada’s specificity to light. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2019

Tenute Bosco Piano Dei Daini 2018, DOC Etna

If any other Etna Bianco were considered round and generous previous to now, this from Bosco re-writes the script. The fruit is quelling, welling and so up front, mostly citrus in orientation but aromatically speaking this bursts from the glass. Extreme freshness with heavy prejudice towards immediate gratification brings you in and keeps you fascinated. A gregarious wine with a solid core and a karst from bones that bodes very well for the future. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Bianco 2017, DOC Etna

A blend of the two contrade (Santo Spirito and Pian dei Daini) made with 90 per cent carricante blended into by catarratto and inzolia. A triad of clean clarity, salty aromatics and confident fruit unction. Meyer lemon to peach and a metal-mineral set of moments. Basalt tang and pure intensity with persistence to just an amount you would ask for and to manage the bites you are enjoying from various depths plucked out of the sea. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Assorted Whites

Rallo Bianco 1860 2017, DOP Sicilia

No member of the Rallo family remains a part of the winery yet that need not distract us from a catarratto out of the terroir in Patti Piccolo ad Alcamo,with luminous acidity plus low and slow developed phenolics. The fruit has come full growing cycle circle so that the pith is truly a part of the lushness that flirts with the tropical. Organic, perfectly bitter and so drinkable. Nothing neutral or boring here. Should develop a sense of caramelization by way of flinty, smoky and smouldering ways. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Assuli Donna Angelica 2017, DOC Sicilia

A sample somewhat metallic, oxidative and quite glycerin in texture, of catarratto, grillo and zibibbo in the production area of Mazara del Vallo. A completely different style of extraction, longer maceration and lots of richness. Certainly a style and one that will solicit a consumer who likes their fruit and their metals. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Alessandro Di Camporeale Catarratto Vigna Di Mandranova 2017, DOC Sicilia

The parent of garganega (Soave and Gambelara) is a firm, giving and well endowed in acidity catarratto from this single vineyard in Agro di Camporeale. Some wood aging adds tonic and marzipan to what began as a smoky varietal wine. The concentration can handle the movement through wood so that basalt, fruit and elemental fineness all get on the same page. Quite complex and morbido (in two languages) at the finish. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Centopassi Terre Rosse Di Giabbascio R14 2014, IGT Terre Siciliane

From a warm area in San Giuseppe Jato on the northwest part of the island and a cooperative on lands confiscated from the mafia. Long aging adding up to nearly four years in tank plus barrel make for a tannic, evolved, metallic and soft catarratto. Full development and extract of all phenolics available in a wine predicated on winemaking above all else. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Arancio Bianco Riserva Dalila 2017, DOC Sicilia

The blend is grillo (80 per cent) and viognier from Contrada Portella Misilbesi in Sambuca di Sicilia. Very yellow orange, quite muscat like with sauvignon blanc lime, floridity and florality. It’s like how that grape can seem botrytis affected because of the peach sweetness and noble rot sensation. Nothing exciting but surely has its place. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Le Casematte Peloro Siclia Bianco 2018, DOC Sicilia

A blend of grillo and carricante, more than 60 per cent is grillo and yet the carricante develops the good and plenty complexity from high toned aromatics. A flinty and striking scintillant with laser sharp flavours. Lovely wine, focused, mineral, salty and fine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Dei Principi Di Spadafora Catarratto 2018, IGP Terre Sicilane

Out of northwest Sicily, of land and respect for nature first. An organic vineyard, 100 hectares, 215,000 bottles produced annually. From sand and marl, essentially argiloso, so a very Good texture, some peach and almond pit notes that are gentle and influential. Lovely wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Dei Principi Di Spadafora Don Pietro Bianco 2018, IGP Terre Sicilane

A 50-50 split of catarratto and grillo, named for Enrica’s grandfather who first made this wine in 1993 and named it as such in 1994. The grillo adds sunshine but this is in fact more amenable and understandable with a different sort of mineral, here in alloy conglomerate accumulation. A beautifully arranged appellative blend. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Dei Principi Di Spadafora Grillo 2018, IGP Terre Sicilane

Grillo is held back two years, one in concrete tank and one in bottle, to mitigate the potentially obstructive freshness though more so, like riesling, a little extra time will bring more balance and delight. There needs to be middle ground between the old oxidative grillo and the new must drink in the first six months style. This is the compromise but even better the right way to accomplish what’s right, proper and necessary, And one to age as well. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Allemanda, Sicilia Noto DOC

A dry moscato (de Noto) that ranks as one of most aromatic you are likely to come across. While it is dry there’s a sweet and savoury tug at once herbal and then metallic enough to pique your interest straight up into the atmosphere. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Alastro 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

A varietal sauvignon blanc from the unheralded and exceptional outpost of Menfi which just may be Sicily’s version of the wild, wild, west. This is a searing, straight-shooter, powerful, elegant, direct and unintentionally ethereal. There’s a punchiness, a fruit punch lag and great mineral thoughtfulness. All terroir right here. Or if you could make riesling in Sancerre, when done well, this is what it might be. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Cometa 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Cometa has changed or rather in its youthful state of ultimate reductive freshness is so straight-laced, linear, tightrope walking along a razor sharp edge. There’s a tonic injection that helps to propel it forward and the envisioning projects two years ahead to see it develop some sweeter fruit notes, straight from the orchard’s hip. Watch for this special vintage of fiano, the ancient noble variety from Campania that Planeta’s braintrust took a well-advised flyer on in the 1990s. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Didacus 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The chardonnay dedicated to Diego Planeta, from the oldest Menfi vines, planted in 1985. The name Didacus is indeed Diego in Latin and the inherent plus inferred further meaning is as thought, a didactic one, which says something about many things. It speaks to the pioneer Mr. Planeta’s two-toned, ahead of its time work and to the way chardonnay takes Sicily into another realm and brings reductive freshness into buttery bites that ties two voices together. And they will speak as one. Soon. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted May 2019

More dry #zibbibo please ~ tasting a diverse lot @siciliaenprimeur ~ terrific wines

Zibbibo

Donnafugata Lighea 2017, DOC Sicilia ($27.99)

Now into the lost art of grillo’s parent zibbibo, a once dominating Sicilian grape that can and will demand your attention when made this way. Like muscat with greater acidity and metal-magic ability, zibbibo carries fine lime and grapefruit bitters like the best of riesling and with a florality that intimates gewürztraminer. Just this example will tell you why some winemakers choose the skin-contact route with a grape that’s such a chameleon and able to maintain acidity plus structure without heading out to salve pasture. Prime example of that right here, finishing with a perfectly tart, just bit into green peach. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Sibliana Eughenes Zibbibo 2018, DOC Sicilia

Another example of dry zibbibo here with less petrol and floral notes but so much citrus fruit. Along with the lemon and lime comes that grapefruit and zesty orange. It’s amazing how it’s expressive of all this plus the kind of bitters that really tie the zibbibo room together. Some will find it challenging but the linger and length are nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Rajàh 2018, DOC Sicilia

Yet again another sort of zibbibo and even within the dry spectrum we see the versatility and diversity of this disappearing variety. More verdancy, herbal pesto, honey dew melon and unction now, with the floral return in lily of the valley and then some drops of orange in a tincture of coriander, stem and hay. The grassiness here is more sauvignon blanc than riesling or muscat and yes, a new way to look at dry zibbibo. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Rallo Al Qasar 2018, DOC Sicilia

The richest and sexiest of the five zibbibo tasted in this flight, of tropical, glycerin fruit and spicy white pepper. Surely less arid than the others, rounder and with added metallics. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Fina Taif Zibibbo 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

Taif is zibbibo from Trapani and once again it’s profile and style is unlike any of the other four tasted in this flight. Though linear, high in striking acidity and certainly lemon-lime focused it’s also an aromatic white of texture and mouthfeel. Brings the muscat nose and zibbibo palate capability together for balanced culpability. Just a terrific example of pleasure meeting structure for the next five years of tight and copacetic togetherness. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Sunset over Siracusa

Rosato

Spadafora Dei Principi Rosato Don Pietro 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

A wild strawberry and mildly earthy-funky Roasto without any bones about who he, she or they happen to be, which coincidentally is nero d’avola of the quickest press for just a hint of varietal inclination. Tart, tight, salty and direct, the brain with knowable and nodding understanding. Serious and who cares at the same time. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Cottanera Etna Rosato 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

Well, now this is really something in nerello mascalese Rosato. It seems at first so fruity, amenable and commercial. The masses will love its fruitiness and what seems like the right amount of sweetness. Then it turns, salty and fine, complexities woven through the extract of time, tannin and crushed rocks sprinkled with lime. It’s chameleon ability to now reel in the the intellect and the discerning one is something to behold. Smart, funny and so charming. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Rosa Dei Venti 2018, IGT Terre Siciliane

A lovely dry and herbal Rosato with a distinct rose petal aroma that leads to saltiness and real Provençal styling on the palate. It’s the way nerello mascalese can imitate, intimate and walk the walk of such a stylistic. Really well made in that regard. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Bosco Rosato Piano Dei Daini 2018, DOC Etna

Daini’s is recognizable nerello mascalese in Rosato styling and clothing with its tart aridity and fruit of a cranberry, currant and pomegranate vein. If that makes sense to you then read on. There’s a red citrus notation that some Rosés just seem to acquiesce and I tend to find it polarizing for those who like Rose. In this instance it can be imagined to work really well for grilled meats. That much I know. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Bosco Etna Rosato 2018, DOC Etna

Rosato from only the pre-phylloxera vines found in Santo Spirito and yes, this is Rosato from those grapes, albeit at the lowest part of the vineyard. The saltiest (within perfect reason) and great fruit concentration rosato that makes you wish you could have the bottle all to yourself. A natural extract sweetness that Rosé so rarely gifts. Just ideal. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Rosato 2018, DOC Etna

Pietradloce does Rosé with certain weight, not in density or heaviness but in magically drawn dry extract and grape tannin. Though it’s lithe Rosato made like a white wine from local nerello mascalese it comes across as a red because the unspoken and hidden possibilities in that extractive process bring trace minerals, elements and earth that most don’t find the way to do. Curious, expressive and with some serious potential. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Pietradolce Etna Rosato 2017, DOC Etna

Perhaps less expressive as ’17 but equally salé with a touch of pepe bianco, or if you concentrate the fruit like this and gift such clarity, the delicasse is more pepperosa. Lovely, fine, special and ideal. Celebrates the young vines growing in the pre-phylloxera Santa Spirito vineyard. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Torre Mora Scalunera Etna Rosato 2018, DOC Etna

Here is truly fruity, amenable and aromatic Rosato from nerello mascalese that walks the textured line. The components are all raised up on the bar; fruit, acids and also sweetness. It’s ostensibly made dry by its balance but the market is meant to be pleased with this style. And it will be. And more because the sneaking factor suggestive of structure raises the ceiling of potential. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Sul Vulcano 2018, DOC Etna

Here Donnafugata serves up a serious yet humorously chic Rosato of more seamlessness when you consider the gathering of fruit, texture and acidity. This just has a way of tying the varietal and purgatorial room together with some method in its magic madness and the result is quite hypnotizing. It’s both gratifying and mystifying from a hermaphroditic wine that crosses between the poles. So for Sul Vulcano there is no mystery. As for the rest of us, there is plenty. Erstwhile will watch to see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Assorted Reds

Castello Solicchiata Cabernet Franc 2013, IGT Terre Siciliane

If you are not fascinated by what can happen when cabernet franc takes to the diaspora streets than clearly you are not a golfer. It is unfortunate that this particular bottle is a bit oxidized, not as a matter of age but just the bottle. And yet the captured acidity is still more than intact but it can’t make up for fruit that is at the edge; hints at cooked, roasted, torched and drying. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Castello Solicchiata Cabernet Franc 2012, IGT Terre Siciliane

While the bottle of 2013 is not so sound this 2012 resides in a place of much better condition. The fruit ripeness persists with a drizzle of reduced balsamico and a lingering that really drives the point. There’s a real sense of crunchiness now rendering into chewy leather and liquorice. Highly instructive wine that is a true rarity in these parts around Catania. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Dumé 2018, DOC Sicilia

This frappato from Trapani is a fruit bomb in the lightest and most acid-driven expression of the word. The light, airy and unencumbered brilliance is buoyant and responsive. This is clearly on the sour side of frappato and in a wholly intense and gastronomic way. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Valle Dell’acate Frappato Il Frappato 2018, DOC Sicilia

Here is a richer and riper frappato that has been pressed for success and squeezed for every last good and plenty drop it can give. There’s a sour candy apple tartness to the fruit and nearly negligible tannin. Ready to drink anytime you are ready. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Centopassi Cimento Di Perricone 2017, IGT Terre Siciliane

Cimento is high glycerin and rich perricone in the garnacha realm, nearly into syrup and certainly at maximum fruit. Dark and blue blood fruit mysterious with pectic and fine-grained tannin. Really well made. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted May 2019

Azienda Agricola Todaro Perricone Feotto 2016, DOC Sicilia

Rich, thick, unctuous and all pervasive glycerin perricone. Highly modern, extracted and wood modified red. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Assuli Furioso Perricone 2016, DOC Sicilia

The longest living variety in Italy, kept alive by a couple dozen producers that was at a time (in the late 19th century) the most planted variety in Sicily. From Contrada Carcitella in Mazaro del Vallo, far western Sicily. A varietal play with rocks, crunchy texture and highly parochial flavours; amaro herbal, blue pulpy fruit and quite forthright. Juicy, juicy wine. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Todoro Shadir 2017, DOC Sicilia

Varietal nero d’avola from Contrada Feotto in San Giuseppe Jato in western Sicily on the north coast. Clay soils at 450m bring dark, rich and warmth for fig, raisin and caramelized sunshine. Not very expressive aromatically though finely tannic and chalky. Acidity is quite supportive though the toasted fruit is not so interested in what it might improve upon were it so accede. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Baglio Di Pianetto Viafrancia Rosso 2014, DOC Sicilia

Contrada Pianetto in Santa Cristina Gela is the source for merlot (70 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon raised in controspalliera (cordone) trellising. Carries all the hallmarks of international varieties grown in foreign lands where it may or may not have found its way. The acidity is searing while the fruit fades into acetic ways. Chalky and grainy but very tart. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted May 2019

Feudo Maccari Maharis 2016, DOC Sicilia

From Contrado Maccari, in Noto with 100 per cent varietal syrah off of calcareous soils. Quite layered and expressive, peppery, high-toned and fruit liquorice leathery. Fragrant and crunchy at times too with savoury-sinewy, nearly resinous but just dialled back enough syrah style. The name comes from the watchtower built by the Arab inhabitants on this coast. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019

Duca Di Salaparuta Duca Enrico 2009, IGT Sicilia

This is just a lovely older wine with perfectly intact albeit transmogrified cherry fruit, uncanny as cherries dried, leathery and still somehow deliciously fresh. That it is nero d’avola, allevato ad alberello in Tenuta di Suor Marchesa in Riesi may or not bring further surprise but the tertiary qualities are nothing short of remarkable. Acids are still supportive and though the syrupy palate is advancing into marbella-like territory that earthiness just adds to the overall charm. As does the sweet smoulder of tobacco that comes at you in waves. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Duca Di Salaparuta Làvico 2015, IGT Terre Siciliane

Take a turn about face in such a nerello mascalese, not quite Etna and surely something other. There is a glycerin and wood structuring if mottled by a soothing coolness about this Rosso. It’s lavished with gilded texture and is very lengthy, like a dress on a mosaic depiction that runs the length of a 4th century Roman villa’s welcome hall. Another example of what a particular house in a particular place can do with nerello mascalese. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted May 2019

Gulfi San Loré 2001, IGT Sicilia

Gulfi’s Vigna San Lorenzo is the source for this umami-marmite-vegemite-roasted vegetable-meat curative Alberello raised nero d’avola from Pachino/Eloro/Val di Noto. This is essentially Sicilian royalty winemaking from fruit concentration at its very optimum best. Twenty-four months in all the right vessels has extracted all the magical character in charm and possibility from and for the grape variety. The acidity is extraordinary and the balance just spot on. So much life and further potential lay ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Spadafora Nero d’Avola Selezione Limitada 2013, IGP Terre Siciliane

“We like to wait, we’re in no hurry. When the wine is ready we release it.” So says Enrica Spadafora. This ’13 is the current release, six years forward. The aging has been done for you and this one needed the time, in fact the tannins are still demanding and in charge. The dark fruit has not dissipated a moment or lost a step. Has 10 years left easy. Delightfully structured nero d’avola of tension, purpose and definitive direction. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Spadafora Schietto Nero d’Avola 2009, IGT Sicilia

From Contrada Virzi in Monreale this is nero d’avola fuller and with more tart ability. While the aromatics are less curious or idiosyncratic there is a wet concrete character that suggest less oxygenation and freshness, though with it comes more unresolved tannin. From Sicily’s northwest with rich soil structure that translates into this nero d’avola heading towards the sunset. It’s really good though not necessarily magically complex. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Leonardo di Bella and Enrica Spadafora

Spadafora Cabernet Sauvignon Selezione Limitada 2012, IGP Terre Siciliane

One of the few Sicilian wineries to not just bottle varietal cabernet sauvignon but to do so with such intention and to treat it with the same respect nero d’avola affords. From the island’s northwest and a small total output off of organic vineyards. So bloody smooth, of ribena and chocolate and one of the island’s great textural wines. Quite a Sicilian expatriate epiphany this one. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Spadafora Syrah Sole dei Padri 2009, IGP Terre Siciliane

This 2009 is the current release, held back for the consumer as will all the reds. A 100 per cent syrah, 50 per cent seeing 25hL barrels, 25 per cent in barriques and 25 in stainless tank. High toned, of creosote, graphite and syrah’s distinct pepperiness. Travels far beyond nero d’avola and cabernet sauvignon in terms of reductive expressionism though without the dusty plum or black forest cake syrup glaze. The flavours here are singular and striking, needing even more time to integrate because the tannins are formidable. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Le Casematte Faro 2017, DOC Sicilia

A four-poster blend of nerello mascalese (55 per cent), nerello cappuccio (25), nocera (10) and nero d’avola. Another wine from Gianfranco Vailati that smells and tastes like the sea, like the far northeastern corner on the strait of Messina to almost reach out and touch Calabria. Sea urchin again, great black fruit, acidity and fine tannin. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2019

Le Casematte Nanuci Nocera 2017, IGP Terre Sicilane

A salty and marine, “ricci di mare,” totally and utterly uncanny in how it smells like sea urchin or perhaps Sicilian mussels and this is a red wine to drink with such an animal and to gaze out over the sea. Dark fruit and massive tannin from the native grape variety. Sit on this thymus one, take deep breaths and take in the vastness of life. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2016, DOC Noto ($75.00)

The flagship 100 per cent nero d’avola must be poured last because of the power and the fact that it’s not something so easily understood. If you were to try and taste other wines after this it would be like Eric Clapton going on after Jimi Hendrix. There’s a deep olive, blood orange, tar and ribena profile that you just know will seek out truffle, porcini, tar and roses. Welcome